Unite’s higher education members ballot for industrial action over ‘derisory’ pay offer

Unite, the largest union in the country, is balloting its members in higher education across the UK for industrial action, following the breakdown of talks over a ‘derisory’ pay offer.

Unite – one of the five unions in the talks – is the first union to reject the pay offer which is a lump sum of £150 for all staff. It will be balloting its members for industrial action to commence later in November.

Unite national officer for education, Mike Robinson said the offer was ‘derisory’ when set against soaring household bills and an inflation rate of 5.2%. He pointed out that London’s Imperial College, which is outside of the national negotiations, has already offered a £500 lump sum or 2% to its employees, whichever is the greater.

In recent years, staff have accepted below inflation pay increases. In 2009, it was 0.5%; in 2010 0.4% and this year’s offer is worth 0.5% on average. The pay deals run from August each year.

Mike Robinson said: ‘Inflation over the last three years has been 12.4%, so in real terms the offers on pay equate to a pay cut of about 11%. Unite members have had enough and have voted in a recent consultative ballot to reject the offer by a 4-1 majority.’

Unite has members in more than 60 UK universities – about half of the total. Most of the Unite members are in the older Russell group-style research intensive universities which have substantial cash reserves and easily able to improve on the existing offer. Unite has exhausted the disputes procedure.

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) was suggesting a reference to the conciliation service, Acas, but Unite has firmly rejected that route, unless the employers give some indication that the £150 pay offer will be improved.

The ballot is expected to open on 28 October and close on 17 November. Unite is one of five unions involved in the pay talks. The others are Unison, GMB, UCU and EIS.

Unite covers staff across all the UK universities from academics and academic-related staff to technicians, skilled administrators, estates, security and domestic staff.

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