Unions to unite for pay talks

December 7, 2007

The higher education unions and employers have reached a provisional agreement on the reform of the pay negotiating processes, rescuing national bargaining from the threat of collapse, writes Melanie Newman. As The Times Higher reported last month, the University and College Union had already agreed to abandon its long-held opposition to negotiating at the same table as non-academic staff. In doing so, it acceded to the demands of other campus unions and employers.

But the UCU faced a continuing split with the non-academic unions by insisting on a sub-committee for discussing issues of specific relevance to academics as a condition of single-table talks.

At a heated meeting last week, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association and support staff unions accepted the UCU proposal, provided that all parties agreed to the establishment of the subcommittee and that it reported back to the single table.

The UCU will seek to use the subcommittee to discuss matters such as low pay, senior staff covered by the 2004 Framework Agreement on pay, and fixed-term and hourly rate contracts.

The second sticking point, namely agreeing a timetable for pay negotiations, was also resolved.

The UCU had been wary of agreeing any timetable that would inhibit its ability to call a strike before the end of term. All parties agreed last week that the first meeting in each pay negotiating round would be in March. Employers accepted that on occasion the second meeting may be in late April, and it is now proposed that the new agreement refer to "April/May" for this meeting rather than "May". The precise date would be agreed between all parties the preceding June.

A new disputes procedure would prohibit unions from taking industrial action while talks are under way, although unions would still be able to ballot their members on the possibility of strikes. The UCU will put the agreement to its higher education committee for ratification on December 14.

Jocelyn Prudence, Ucea chief executive, said she was pleased to have reached agreement in principle. "Employers are committed to working in partnership with all unions to deliver negotiation arrangements fit for the 21st century through these reforms."

Jon Richards, senior national officer for Unison's education workforce unit, said: "We had a series of tough negotiating meetings that have resulted in an agreement that addresses all unions' concerns. Our negotiators will be positively recommending the deal to our national executive."

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