University & College Union ballots its members about industrial action

A message from Ian Cheetham, Director of Human Resources:

As I am sure many of you will be aware, the University & College Union (UCU) has put in a pay claim for at least an 8% rise and is currently organising a ballot of its members for industrial action.

The UCU has called the ballot because of a 'lack of a credible pay offer' from the UCEA (Universities & Colleges Employers Association) and because of 'job cuts across the sector'.

National pay bargaining is undertaken by the Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education (JNCHES), which was established in 2001.

JNCHES comprises the UCEA and the trade unions representing staff in the higher education sector.

It is important to clarify that JNCHES does not have a remit to negotiate jobs.

It is the only national forum within which a national pay claim can be considered. It has no jurisdiction to negotiate or regulate jobs in the HE sector - the employment of staff is a matter for each independent institution. This merging of the two issues is misleading for staff, students and the public.

In terms of the threat of industrial action we support the view taken by the 1994 Group universities of which we are a member.

In a joint statement with the Russell group of universities, Executive Director of the 1994 Group, Paul Marshall, said: "Our universities are committed to providing a first class education for their students.

"In a difficult economic climate, the UCU's 8% pay claim is beyond what any responsible employer could be expected to deliver.

"We will continue to work closely with staff and unions to ensure that we provide competitive pay and conditions for our highly-valued staff.

"Industrial action will be damaging to our institutions and to the learning experience we offer, and we will act to minimise any disruption to our students."

The Director General of the Russell Group, Dr Wendy Piatt, added: "All of our universities are deeply worried at the prospect of disruption of student examinations this summer in pursuit of an 8% pay rise.

"Every effort is being made to retain staff of the highest calibre but universities continue to be subject to some extremely difficult economic conditions with income streams under threat, costs increasing and international competition escalating.

"An 8% pay rise would undermine all our efforts to minimise job losses and severely hamper our chances of surviving this adverse economic climate.

"The experience of our students and welfare of our staff remains of paramount importance to us as world-class institutions; and now - more than ever - we need to work together to reduce costs to ensure we can weather the storm."

The financial strain in the HE sector has been added to further by the Chancellor's announcement in his recent budget that the Department of Innovation, Universities & Skills (DIUS) has been asked to provide £1.94 billion of savings, which includes an additional £400 million of savings for 2010-11.

There is currently uncertainty as to where the £400m cuts will fall and whether the entire cut will fall in 2010-11 financial year or cut across the end of the 2009-10 higher education financial year (April to July 2010).

However, what is clear is that these cuts will be passed on to institutions at some stage - placing further pressure on budgets.

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