Eight per cent pay rise would end strikes, say employment experts

Academics doubtful that universities will be prepared to offer increases seen in other UK sectors

December 6, 2022
Protesters take part in a union rally  by the University and College Union (UCU) amid strike action by staff to illustrate Eight per cent rise would end strikes, say labour experts
Source: Getty

UK universities are going to have to offer a pay rise of about 8 per cent to satisfy workers and unions, according to employment experts, with big settlements in other sectors being closely watched by staff on the picket lines.

Negotiations on a new pay deal are being brought forward following three days of walkouts by University and College Union (UCU) members across 150 campuses in November. The UCU is demanding a wage rise in excess of inflation, which is currently running at about 11 per cent.

Gregor Gall, a research associate at the University of Glasgow and an expert in industrial relations, said staff expected the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea) offer to be “at least double” the 3 per cent rise imposed for 2021-22, with more possible if industrial action proves to be sufficiently disruptive, particularly during the busy winter exam period.

“I would suggest that [the offer] would need to be around 8 per cent so that there is some sense that it effectively raises up the pay increase for 2022-23 [and shows] striking has some positive impacts,” he said.

Higher-paid UCU members might be willing to accept a lesser deal if it offered the most to those in the lowest pay bands, Professor Gall added, but many will be conscious that 8 per cent wage rises have been given to those striking elsewhere and will believe they should be given the same.

“It’s not double digits because these are the property of lorry drivers which are in the private sector, where employers are able to do such deals without restrictions on their ability to negotiate,” he cautioned.

Telecoms company BT recently gave its staff wage rises of between 6 per cent and 16 per cent to settle a dispute, while unions representing local government workers last month accepted an offer that averages out at about 7 per cent more for most staff.

Ucea has said the sector needs more funding to go further on pay, and Professor Gall said he did not expect the organisation – which represents all UK universities in the negotiations – to come up with an offer sufficient to satisfy staff, meaning that the disputes will likely continue into next year.

“There would seem to be the funds for higher pay offers, but it would take unity across Ucea to do it and the movement of funds from other budgets into staff,” he said.

Roger Seifert, emeritus professor of industrial relations at Wolverhampton University, said employers could make some concessions on other UCU demands – such as the issues of equality and precarious contracts – to agree a deal, even if the pay offer is not as high as members would like.

He said he felt “most but not all” higher education employers could afford to make an offer of 7 or 8 per cent, and may be motivated to do so, particularly given the concerns about “labour shortages in key subjects and the exodus of older colleagues”.

“UCU will settle for about that if promises are made about future negotiations and other conditions,” he predicted.

Ucea has claimed that there is a “real possibility” that employers and unions “can set aside differences”. One option on the table is a “consolidated interim payment” to help staff with cost-of-living pressures.

Richard Hyman, emeritus professor of industrial relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said the fact that other groups of workers have been striking, and with some success, has “contributed to the surprisingly strong support for action in recent UCU ballots”.

“If Ucea does not come up with a significant offer, it will add to the current demoralisation among university staff,” he added.


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Reader's comments (2)

8%, interesting, the 12th may be interesting too...
Pay rise should be uniform as those on higher salaries (ie top reseasrch professors), other than VCs and PVCS who do a very basic management role, have far greater skill and are meant to paid more than professional services staff and teaching fellows. The current practice of giving the university gardner a 8 percent rise and the professors a mere 3 percent rise is wrong as it effectively taxes the professor for spending years doing a PhD and building up the skills for what ought to be a higher paid role. The gap is being closed between a gardner's salary and that of a professor by giving the low skilled worker three times the pay rise each time. A flat 8 percent should apply to all staff on less than £120,000 per year. PVCS and VCS on half million ought to get a cut not a rise.