UCU staff up the ante in pay dispute with own bosses

UCU staff accuses bosses of prioritising senior management pay

UCU staff accuses bosses of prioritising senior management pay

Staff at the University and College Union have escalated a pay dispute with their bosses and accused them of “prioritising the pay of senior management”.

Talks broke down last week between Unite, the union representing over 200 UCU employees, and UCU management to the point where the union has demanded a meeting with UCU senior officers including president Justine Mercer.

UCU has offered staff a five per cent pay rise backdated to August 1, 2023, plus a 3.5 per cent pension-related uplift from January 1, 2024, a London weighting increase to £5,400 and a one-off non-consolidated £1,200 payment.

Employees have rejected the offer, instead demanding the percentage increases be translated into a flat sum for all staff, a compromise that a Unite UCU spokesperson told FE Week wouldn’t cost UCU any more than its offer.

“Clearly our employer’s priority during the cost-of-living crisis is to bolster senior manager pay at the expense of lower-paid staff,” the group said in a tweet last week.

A Unite UCU spokesperson told FE Week: “To resolve this dispute, we have tabled a compromise counter-proposal, which will not cost UCU a penny more than it has already offered; but it would redistribute the money already identified in a way which prioritises those on the lower part of the pay spine – those staff hit hardest by the cost-of-living crisis.”

Pressure is mounting on UCU bosses to resolve the dispute, especially as the ballot to vote for UCU general secretary and the national executive committee (NEC) begins next week. General secretary Jo Grady is standing for a second term and will compete against three other nominees.

UCU represents around 120,000 people working in universities and colleges. The union often attacks so-called “greedy” university and college bosses as it represents lecturers and other staff in their fight for higher pay and better working conditions.

UCU employees have been fighting bosses’ workplace policies as far back as last March, when Unite submitted their pay claim on behalf of UCU staff. 

Unite also launched a dispute over UCU’s failure to agree a hybrid working policy, as well as members voting to strike over colleague redundancies in September, and a dispute over UCU managers forming their own union.

Unite also reported UCU to the health and safety executive (HSE) – a safety regulator – last summer over concerns that the employer was not risk assessing the level of work-related stress of staff.

The HSE investigation found in November the employer breached health and safety law by not carrying out risk assessment at an organisational level, opting for individual stress risk assessments for employees who report work-related stress.

A UCU spokesperson said: “UCU staff do an incredible job for our members, and in return they rightly receive some of the best pay and terms and conditions in the whole trade union movement. 

“We are committed to ensuring that members are satisfied, and we remain hopeful that the 2023/24 pay round will be agreed as soon as possible, despite Unite members rejecting a consolidated pay offer worth 8.5 per cent as of January 2024, and a non-consolidated payment of £1,200. This equates to an in-year salary increase of around 11 per cent (excluding London allowance) for those on a midpoint salary.

“UCU met with Unite last week, where we offered to reconfigure how the non-consolidated amount is paid and look forward to resolving this pay round.”

A Unite UCU spokesperson said: “As a trade union UCU should model the values and the practices that it wishes to see all employers uphold. It is deeply disappointing, therefore, that UCU as an employer has disregarded the key trade union value of solidarity by prioritising the pay of senior management at the expense of lower paid staff.

“It is now up to UCU as an employer to do the right thing by agreeing to our compromise proposal. Any other response would be contrary to the interests of UCU staff and contrary to the interests of UCU members.”

Union representation of union staff members is not out of the ordinary, nor are internal disputes at unions.

Unite also represents employees of the National Education Union (NEU). Last November, members voted for strike action, rejecting the employer’s five per cent pay offer.

Meanwhile, one of the UK’s largest unions, GMB, was found to be institutionally sexist by an independent inquiry in 2020. Last year, another inquiry found sexism, bullying and a “mafia-like” culture was pervasive at Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association rail union.

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