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Trade Union Industrial Action in HE and FE

Tuesday 3 December 2013 NUS News

Following democratic ballots of their members in support of industrial action earlier this autumn, four higher education trade unions (UCU, UNISON, Unite and EIS) announced a one-day strike that took place on 3 December. This follows an initial day of strike action on 31 October.

Meanwhile, members of UCU working in further education colleges in England joined their colleagues in universities on strike. This follows a pay offer of 0.7 per cent, which the union points out would leave staff with a 15 per cent pay cut over the past four years. 

An extraordinary JNCHES dispute meeting between the UNISON, UCU, Unite and EIS and the higher education employers took place on 20 November 2013. The meeting failed to resolve the dispute between the four unions and the university employers.

The higher education ballots followed the final offer of 1 per cent through the Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education (JNCHES) in May 2013, which the unions have pointed out would mean academics will have suffered a real terms pay cut of 13 per cent since 2008. As Will Hutton recently put it, this is “one of the largest sustained wage cuts any profession has suffered since the Second World War”. It is not only lecturers but those staff on lower wages, such as porters, technicians, and secretaries who have lost out, and stand to lose out again.
This squeeze on staff pay comes at a time when pay and benefits for higher education leaders increased, on average, by more than £5,000 in 2011/12, with the average pay and pensions package for vice-chancellors hitting almost £250,000, according to the annual Times Higher Education pay survey.

To recap on NUS’ position:
  • NUS believes that lecturers and other staff in our universities and colleges should be properly supported and remunerated. We believe that fair pay is an issue of fairness in itself, but also note that there are very clear benefits to students that pay is at a level which attracts excellent staff, and helps to support the maintenance of a happy and motivated workforce.
  • NUS believes the introduction of market forces into higher education are forcing universities to make rash economic decisions, incentivising them to engage in beauty contests rather than investing in the underpinnings of a quality education. Rather than allowing students and staff to be pitted against each other, NUS believes students and staff should find common ground and wherever possible, work together to defend education.
  • NUS support the rights of all staff to challenge unfair practices, including to challenge pay and conditions which they democratically deem to be unfair.
  • NUS recognises industrial action as an entirely legitimate means of raising such concerns. However, we have concerns where industrial action unnecessarily and seriously impacts on students – including on the marking and assessment of work, and the ability of students to graduate.
  • NUS notes that it is entirely possible to undertake industrial action in a manner which limits negative impacts on students, and which actually encourages active support from students over issues of common cause and concern.

NUS will continue to be in close dialogue with the trade unions nationally, and will also be in contact with employers’ representatives. We hope the day of strike action today will precipitate a speedy resolution to the ongoing pay dispute, and in such a way that provides a fair and sustainable settlement to staff.