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The University and College Union (UCU) has today (Wednesday) urged university employers to “stop spinning and start talking” on pay and pensions.

The call comes after the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) published a second misleading report within a week downplaying problems with pay and contracts in the sector, while failing to respond to a call for renewed talks from the Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner.

The latest report, published yesterday, suggests that the use of casual contracts in higher education are declining. UCU said this claim was “totally disingenuous” and ignored the reality that a third of academic staff are on fixed-term contracts and thousands more are employed on precarious ‘atypical’ contracts.

 The publication came just days after the employers’ own analysis revealed that pay in higher education has plummeted over the last decade.

UCU said the time had come for the employers to stop spinning and start talking seriously about how to resolve the disputes. It said time spent on obscuring the facts would be better spent on finding long-term solutions to the sector’s structural issues.

The union said it was ready to negotiate with the employers in good faith, and called on UCEA to match Universities UK’s commitment to return to unconditional talks.

UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, said: ‘This latest attempt by the employers to downplay the extent of casualisation in the sector is totally disingenuous. The reality is that a third of academic staff are on fixed-term contracts and thousands more are employed on precarious ‘atypical’ contracts.

‘The time has come for the employers to stop spinning and start talking. Instead of downplaying the problems at hand, the employers should pay heed to Angela Rayner and commit to serious negotiations. Time spent obscuring the facts would be much better spent finding long-term, sustainable solutions to the structural problems facing the sector.’

Shadow education secretary calls for urgent talks in university pay and pension disputes

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner has said that she “fully supports” members of the University and College Union (UCU) fighting for fair pay and decent pensions, while calling for urgent talks to try and resolve the disputes.

In a statement, she warned that “falling pay, rising workloads and increasingly insecure employment” are undermining careers in higher education, and said recent changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) “risk pricing staff in many institutions out of their pension provision”.

UCU members at sixty-nine institutions are currently being balloted in the row over USS pensions, while members at 147 institutions are being balloted at the same time as part of a dispute over pay, workloads, casualisation and equality. The ballots will close on Wednesday 30 October and the union's higher education committee will meet to consider the results on Friday 1 November.

The shadow secretary called on both sides to “urgently return to unconditional talks” and work together to find a “sensible solution which addresses these important issues”. UCU welcomed the statement and said it was fully prepared to meet the employers in good faith for further negotiations.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: ‘The success of our higher education sector is built on the hard work and dedication of thousands of staff. Ensuring that we can continue to attract talented people to work in our universities and deliver education for the public good is crucially important.

‘I am deeply concerned that a combination of falling pay, rising workloads and increasingly insecure employment is making a career in higher education less sustainable. On top of this, recent changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) risk pricing staff in many institutions out of their pension provision altogether. 

‘All staff in our universities deserve fair pay, a secure contract, a sensible workload, opportunities for professional development and a decent, affordable pension. I fully support higher education staff in their fight to defend pay and pensions for the future, but I also know that students and parents will want to see the current disputes resolved as soon as possible and avoid unnecessary disruption.

‘I am therefore calling on both sides to urgently return to unconditional talks, assisted by ACAS as appropriate, and negotiate for as long as it takes to agree a way forward.

‘In building the National Education Service, Labour will put investment in education staff at the heart of our plans; I urge the employers and USS to do the same by working with trade unions to find a sensible solution which addresses these important issues.’

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘UCU welcomes the call by Angela Rayner for unconditional talks aimed at resolving these disputes. For our part, we are fully prepared to meet the employers in good faith for further negotiations on the two disputes now facing the sector.’

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