From education to employment

NATFHE and AUT Combine to Demand Pay Promise Realisation

Two of Britain’s largest academic unions have reiterated calls for university employers to allocate new funds to staff salary increases.

In a joint statement, the Association of University Teachers (AUT) and the University and College Lecturers Unions (NATFHE) urged Vice Chancellors to honour promises made during last year’s debate on top-up fees.

The new fees, which are due to be introduced in September 2006, will generate an estimated £3.5billion in England alone by 2009, the unions claim. The Government have previously suggested that universities will receive an extra £3bn from taxpayers, and £2bn from university fees. Although NATFHE does not support the principle of charging top-up fees, claiming it is not “an equitable way to fund the higher education system”, they have demanded that a proportion of the money generated by the system be used to fund “substantial pay increases.”

Former Education Minister Alan Johnson told MPs in April 2004 that the introduction of top-up fees would help to improve pay and conditions for university staff, which he acknowledged as “a very serious and deep-rooted problem.” He spoke of assurances from university Vice-Chancellors that, “in general, at least a third of that money will be put back into the salaries and conditions of their staff.”

Justification for More Cost?

Some Vice-Chancellors quoted low academic staff salaries, which have been in steady decline for the past twenty years, as a factor in their support for top-up fees. Universities have defended their inaction thus far, claiming that it is still too early to assess the financial effect of the new fees system. However, the heads of the two unions dismissed this claim as “beyond belief,” and have accused employers of refusing to honour promises made to the government. Members of NATFHE in FE Colleges across the country have been engaged in action in demand of their pay deals throughout the year.

Disputes between staff and employers have led to industrial action in British universities on a number of occasions in recent years, with students attending classes facing picketing lecturers and administrative staff. AUT and NATFHE represent over 110,000 members of staff in the further and higher education sectors, and a possible merger next month could see them become the world’s largest post-16 education union. Further strike action has been threatened, should employers not “respond positively” to the accusations by the end of November.

However, in the statement, the two unions expressed their willingness to avoid a “damaging dispute.” Stating their availability to negotiate over the precise allocation of staff funds, they urged employers against “backtracking on their promise to the Minister”, and insisted that a fulfilment of this would guarantee a peaceful end to the disagreement.

A further course of action will be decided when the unions meet on 2nd December.

Jessica Brammar

How should the unions ensure the members” pay deals are honoured? Tell us in the FE Blog

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