Rancorous start to collective pay negotiations

Representatives for employers and trade unions have accused each other of delaying negotiations over pay and conditions for 2022-23

The first meeting between unions and employers over pay negotiations began with “outrage” and “frustration”, claimed representatives of the two sides.

The first meeting of the New Joint Negotiating Committee for the Higher Education Sector (JNCHES) between the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea) and five sector trade unions took place on 30 March.

Together, representatives of the two sides will make major decisions on pay and conditions for more than 350,000 staff across 145 HE institutions.

But the meeting to kick start negotiations for 2022-23 ended with representatives trading accusations.

The five trade unions – the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), GMB, the University and College Union (UCU), UNISON and Unite – released a public statement accusing Ucea of deliberately slowing negotiations.

The unions said Ucea claimed it was “not yet in a position” to present pay proposals on behalf of employers, despite being “well-placed to table an opening offer” to address the cost of living and current industrial unrest.

The unions declared their “outrage” over this “unacceptable” delay and called on vice-chancellors “wish[ing] for an end to the unhealthy industrial relations in the sector, to ask whether [Ucea] is acting…in the best interests of employers, staff and students”.

But representatives of Ucea struck back, saying it had not received the unions’ full pay and conditions claim until 23 March, a day after a crucial Ucea board meeting. This late submission meant Ucea could not prepare a comprehensive response ahead of the crunch 30 March JNCHES meeting, representatives claimed.

Ucea declared its “disappointment and frustration” at the unions for the accusation that the delays to negotiations were deliberate. It claimed the five trade unions were informed before the JNCHES meeting that Ucea could not yet discuss pay but could discuss “the non-pay items which make up the majority of the claim”.

“This is why their response is so disappointing,” said Raj Jethwa, the chief executive of Ucea, “in particular their unwillingness to take part in constructive dialogue over the very many various elements of their claim.

“Last year, we were accused of failing to negotiate on the non-pay elements of their claim. We came fully prepared to discuss these non-pay elements again this year but have not been given the opportunity to do so. Employers have entered this year’s talks in good faith.”

Ucea recognises the cost of living and inflation, Jethwa said, but universities “face unprecedented financial challenges” this year. On behalf of employers, Jethwa said Ucea would present a pay offer at the next meeting on 25 April, which would provide enough time before the next scheduled pay uplift that is not due until 1 August.

Read more: Employers refute latest union pension claims

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