University members of public service union Unison voted this week to plan for industrial action, including all-out indefinite strikes, if pay demands were not met.
But delegates to the union's higher education sector conference rejected calls to ballot members on whether to reject the employer's offer of a 3.5 per cent rise and campaign for the original demand of 10 per cent.
Frank Duffy, chair of Unison's higher education service group executive, condemned the employers' offer as "a disgrace" and pledged support for strike action strictly in accordance with Unison rules if members fail to achieve their aims on pay.
But Andrew Stoton, Unison representative at London Guildhall University, attacked Unison leaders for failing to ballot members on this year's offer.
In a closely argued debate, Jake Rollin, also from London Guildhall, said the overwhelming view of members at his branch was that they wanted to reject an offer that was "obviously an insult".
Dorothy Pearce, union officer at King's College, London, said: "AUT (Association of University Teachers) members are better paid than Unison members and even they don't like 3.5 per cent."
But Les Fountain, representing Anglia Polytechnic University members, said he was worried that more jobs would go at his university if employers were forced to pay a higher increase.
Susan Martin, representing Bolton Institute members, said her branch had already balloted and found 100 per cent in favour of the offer. "Our members cannot afford to reject a 3.5 per cent offer and believe strike action would cancel out any rise they achieve from that action," she said.
Mr Duffy warned delegates not to rely on much support from the AUT if they campaigned together.
The conference also agreed to base future pay claims on a flat- rate increase with a specific figure, rather than a percentage.
In the News, page 14