Pay talks impasse continues as unions await employers’ offer

Lack of agreement on whether industrial action should continue while talks are in progress hampers chances of resolving dispute

January 10, 2023
Cardiff, Wales - November 2019 Sign attached to a tree near an official picket line outside Cardiff University. It marks industrial action by members of the Universities and College Union.
Source: iStock

Pay negotiations aimed at preventing further industrial action across UK universities are still mired in deadlock after a second meeting broke down without an offer being made.

Jo Grady, the general secretary of the University and College Union, accused employers of insisting that all strikes be suspended before revealing details of the proposed pay rise, calling it a “deeply unserious way to negotiate”.

UCU and the other higher education unions met with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea) on 9 January for the second scheduled meeting of the latest round of negotiations.

After the previous meeting on 13 December, Ucea said the unions had tried to rescind a “de-escalation agreement” that would have prevented members taking industrial action during the negotiations in December and January.

UCU denied making any such agreement and refused to cease plans to hold a marking and assessment boycott in January and potential further strikes in February.

Ucea then proposed a rewording of the agreement that stated the talks should “take place in an industrial relations environment that is as calm as possible” and that the impact of action already announced should be kept to a “reasonable minimum” while no further action should be called during this period.

However, the impasse was still not resolved at Monday’s second meeting of the negotiations, which have been brought forward by several months over concerns about how the rising cost of living is affecting university staff.

“UCU yesterday went into negotiations with university employers, represented by Ucea, to try to reach a deal on pay and conditions,” Dr Grady said.

“Disappointingly, Ucea refused to make an offer for 2022-23 and again demanded that UCU suspend planned industrial action as a precondition to even receiving one. This is a deeply unserious way to negotiate.”

UCU said it expects Ucea to make “a serious offer” before the next meeting, scheduled to take place on 16 January. Ucea confirmed that a written pay offer would be made prior to the meeting but it would be for the 2023-24 pay round, and not 2022-23, which it regards as closed.

“The employers entered this unique negotiation process seeking just an understandable period of calm to allow constructive negotiation,” said Ucea chief executive Raj Jethwa. “Union threats of strike action and announcement of a marking and assessment boycott will be interpreted by many – students, staff, employers and others – as undermining any such period of calm. 

“While there will be disappointment and frustration across the sector at UCU’s threats for more industrial action, we have an obligation to negotiate now as all HE institutions fully recognise the inflationary pressures currently facing all staff.” 

UCU is currently embroiled in an internal debate over where to go next with its campaign, with a section of members advocating for an “indefinite strike” but Dr Grady preferring instead a strategy of “escalating action”.

Meetings of the union’s branch delegates were taking place on 10 January before its higher education committee meets on 12 January to make a final decision.

“The joint trade unions are eager to resolve the disputes but can only do so if fair offers for both 2022-23 and 2023-24 are forthcoming,” Dr Grady continued.

“By not even providing a starting offer, Ucea is undermining trust in negotiations and putting the entire university sector on a collision course with unprecedented industrial action.

“The dedicated staff who work in our universities have not had an above inflation pay rise in 13 years. They deserve so much better than to be strung along by employers.”

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Reader's comments (1)

The UCU strategy is doomed to failure.


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