Negotiator response to 27 January UCEA offer

Yesterday, the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA) made public an offer to UCU, related to our current ‘Four Fights’ dispute on casualisation, equality, pay, and workload. Ahead of the meeting of the Higher Education Committee tomorrow, in the interests of transparency and accountability, the elected lay national negotiators would like to share with you our preliminary report on this offer. We set out our position below.

We are of the opinion that this offer does not represent the best deal that can be achieved by and for our members in this dispute. 

Your elected negotiators have been in talks with UCEA since July 2019, and ‘without prejudice’ talks since November 2019. These are bound by confidentiality, which has meant that we have been unable to comment on the details of the negotiations until now.  In these talks, we have been developing and advocating for proposals which we believe will change our sector for the better. These proposals are founded on the grounds of UCU’s trade dispute with UCEA, and are bound by UCU’s democratically-established policy.

UCU has been able to bring UCEA back to the negotiating table thanks to your ballot turnout, your strike mandate and ultimately the strength of your industrial action. We want to thank you. There is power in collective action. Just today, we have learned that 12 of the re-balloting branches have crossed the 50% threshold and can join us in any future industrial action.

Our talks with UCEA have produced some important progress. Previously, UCEA have been entirely unwilling to address working conditions in this sector beyond the constitution of working groups which produced only ‘recommendations’ that university managers could choose to ignore with impunity. In our renewed talks with UCEA, we have consistently argued that the three fundamental pay-related issues in this dispute must be addressed at both a sector-wide and institutional level, just as standardised rates of pay are decided nationally, but split into grade bands through local negotiations between management and trade unions.

We have advocated for a sector-wide, UK level agreement, modelled after the 2004 National Framework Agreement. It incorporates a series of principles on ‘pay related’ issues to be locally implemented via negotiated agreements at the institutional level:

  1. A sector-wide set of clearly defined expectations for HEIs on workload, secure work, and equality, to be agreed in these negotiations. These expectations would be revisited on an iterative basis, and would form a component of future negotiations rounds.
  2. The details of local implementation of said expectations, to be agreed by sector institutions and trade union representatives at each institution.
  3. A mechanism by which this locally-negotiated implementation can be clearly and transparently assessed on a yearly basis, via the provision of agreed upon data to the local trade union representatives.
  4. A mechanism by which sector-wide implementation can be clearly and transparently assessed, via the analysis of aggregated sector wide data.

The above proposal recognises that UCEA perceives limitations in their ability to ‘compel’ or require certain actions from their subscriber institutions. However in order for any agreement founded on sets of expectations to make a real difference for members, the ability to monitor progress at both an institutional and sector level is critical.

While many aspects of UCEA’s current offer look positive and represent a level of welcome progress, others need to be substantially improved, and their implementation will be key. This is starkly missing from the UCEA offer document. UCU members have repeatedly been asked to trust in the warm words of UCEA and senior leaders across the sector, while exploitative and unfair practices have continued unabated, and proliferated. We have been clear that the gaps in the current offer would allow bad practice to continue across the sector, and must be closed for UCU members to be able to have faith in any proposed agreement with UCEA. 

We also need to look to future annual negotiation rounds, alongside the other unions in the New JNCHES bargaining arrangements. The current offer includes a clause which references ‘avoiding the need’ for the inclusion of casualisation, workload and intersectional pay gaps in our 2020/21 claim. As negotiators we are tasked with achieving the very best for UCU members, and we expect willingness from our employers to work proactively with trade unions to continually improve working conditions each and every year.  

On pay, UCEA have been very reluctant to move. We have made it clear that our members expect to see improvement from employers on all four grounds of our claim. We have underlined that we are open to negotiation on headline pay, and we want to find a resolution that will work for all members. At our last meeting UCEA told us they would take that message back to their members. As you can see, their offer does not move on pay at all.

We believe that we can achieve more in further negotiations, and that this offer does not yet meet our members’ justified demands, nor progress for the HE sector. It cannot represent a win for members who have taken – or will take – part in industrial action.

We think we are stronger together.

Your elected negotiating team

Vicky Blake, ARPS Pre 92

Jo McNeill, ARPS Pre 92

Robyn Orfitelli, Academic Pre 92

Mark Abel, Academic Post 92

Marian Mayer, Academic Post 92

Joanna de Groot, Academic Pre 92

Sean Wallis, Academic Pre 92

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