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CAUT Bulletin Archives

April 2006

Academics Take Action at UK Universities

Academic staff in the United Kingdom are leaving coursework unmarked, cancelling lectures and seminars and refusing to supervise exams in a coordinated effort to pressure employers into ending a bitter pay dispute.

Association of University Teachers and National Association for Teachers in Further and Higher Education members voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action to force the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association back to the bargaining table.

“Our decision to take industrial action has not been taken lightly,” said Sally Hunt, general secretary of AUT. “The employers have had months to stop this happening and even after our resounding mandate from members for industrial action, they still are refusing to make any serious effort to get the current pay dispute resolved.”

The unions held a one day strike March 7 and a further two-day work stoppage is planned for May 2 and 3.

“It’s an absolute last resort,” Hunt said, adding the unions remain committed to resolving the dispute at the bargaining table, not on the picket lines.

Both AUT and NATFHE are angry the employers have reneged on public promises to use new government funding for student bursaries and substantial, across the board staff pay increases.

Hunt said every higher education union rejected the employers’ March 28 pay offer of 6 per cent over two years.

“How the employers can claim their staff and students are important to them and then treat them so shabbily is beyond me,” she said.

NATFHE general secretary Paul Mackney said that after seeing their pay drop over the past two decades, lecturers are looking for salary levels that would restore their pay to those of comparable professionals.

“Nobody disputes they deserve it and billions of pounds of new funding now makes this catch up possible,” he said.

Mackney also said the university vice chancellors had an average salary increase of 8 per cent last year and 25 per cent over the last three years.

AUT and NATFHE were barred from the March pay talks and warned they will be excluded from future negotiations if they don’t stand down their industrial action. “Making an offer without having input from the biggest academic unions is a pointless publicity stunt,” Hunt said. “The employers know full well the action will not be called off until we get a credible offer. Under similar circumstances in the past, they met us unconditionally and attaching conditions to negotiations at this late stage flies in the face of their supposed commitment to dialogue rather than dispute. We’re disappointed they’ve chosen such a deliberately harmful approach.”