University union challenge

Veronica Killen, UCU NEC (personal capacity), reports on the union’s pay strategy.

UCU members in higher education feel bewildered and disappointed. There may be calls to recall the national Higher Education Committee after national negotiators voted to call off action short of strike (ASOS) in early October, despite a whopping 70% mandate from members.

In a recent consultative ballot over the consistently miserly pay offers by employers, the majority of members voted for action. Pay has been cut by over 16% over recent years. Improvements to equality issues, such as equal pay audits and improving poor contracts for hourly paid staff, are also part of the pay claim. Many employers are dragging their feet over these issues.

The result of the ballot on action was 44% in favour of strike action, 55% against. 70% were in favour of ASOS compared to 29% against. Members feel bewildered at this result. There was no advice that voting for ASOS but not for strike action would result in the possibility of no action at all.

After considering the ballot results, the national negotiators voted not to support ASOS. Members need answers, in particular, what is the strategy of the ‘independent broad left’ whose members and supporters dominate the NEC and the national negotiating team? Fear of employer lock-outs is not sufficient. This year was the first opportunity to have joint co-ordinated action between all higher education campus unions.

Despite this bewildering decision, members want to show solidarity with sister campus unions where we know many staff are on abysmally low wages. Porters, cleaners and security staff are struggling to cope – as are many UCU members – particularly part-time and hourly paid (predominately women) staff. Some in UCU are hoping this year’s pay claim dispute is not entirely lost so we can work together on building for the future. It is obvious there is a lot of work to do both at local and national level.

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