We can't afford this deal's price

August 1, 2003

Employers' latest pay offer asks staff to sign up to untold changes with few guarantees, says Sally Hunt.

The University and Colleges Employers' Association last week described the proposed two-year pay offer for university staff as a "major breakthrough".

And yet, on Monday, the executive committee of the Association of University Teachers voted to reject the package in its current form. Bearing in mind Ucea's upbeat assessment, you might think that our executive committee has taken leave of its senses. But if you analyse what is on the table, you will understand why the AUT views the proposals as ones that need more thought.

The proposed package - which Ucea says is worth 7.7 per cent - comes with a big price tag: namely changes for staff in their terms and conditions and to the mechanisms for deciding how pay will be determined in the future.

The AUT wholeheartedly supports modernisation that benefits higher education and has argued in its favour. But while we want progress in the sector, we also want protection for staff.

The employers have offered 3.44 per cent this year, with 3 per cent more in 2004. This goes only a tiny way towards the increase in higher education salaries needed over the next three years to make up ground lost to other similar workers in the past two decades.

The employers are also seeking to make changes that would affect virtually everyone in the sector. In particular, the vice-chancellors propose an increase in the number of increments in each grade and a reduction in their worth from as much as 5 per cent of salary at the moment to just 3 per cent in the future. They also want a career pathway that currently excludes staff who are in the academic-related grades, a dilution of the right of the AUT to bargain effectively on behalf of both sides of the academic team and an acceptance of the right of individual institutions to agree their own methods for placing staff.

Taken together, these changes create massive uncertainty, especially since the employers have until 2006 to introduce the new arrangements. This means that we are expected to accept the proposals when not even vice-chancellors know where people's jobs will fit in the new structure.

This union has argued for modernisation for years, but any such agenda must be based around better-managed resources, more transparency and equality of pay and opportunity for all.

The AUT will seek further discussions on five key concessions:

  • A pay offer that reflects the productivity of staff and begins the process of making up ground lost against other similar staff
  • A clear process to agree grade descriptions that offer more clarity about where people will be placed in the new structure
  • An incremental structure that is transparent, promotes equality of opportunity and delivers real career progression
  • A nationally agreed pay and grading structure that institutions will follow
  • Guarantees about the future integrity of our bargaining machinery.

We are determined to come to an agreement and will work tirelessly to do so. But we can do this only if the Ucea recognises that the proposals have to be far more realistic and if it is prepared to offer hard-working university staff clear guarantees about their future terms and conditions.

Sally Hunt is general secretary of the Association of University Teachers.

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