To be clear as we start, we have entered stage 2 of the New JNCHES process.
Stage 1 was on pay – the stage 2 discussions (on the pay spine, contract types, workload, and equality pay gaps) were always going to start after stage 1 (on pay) had concluded. It didn’t conclude with agreement – both sides of that conversation (UCEA and the unions) are clear that an impasse had been reached and the dispute resolution process (which ended with conciliation at ACAS) has been exhausted.
So we were not expecting, and have not seen, any movement on the pay offer – the employers offer of at least 5 per cent, rising to 8 per cent, with a proportion paid in advance is still where we are.
What we do have is terms of reference for work on the non-pay elements of discussion – both employers and union representatives now have to consult on these before these move forward. UCEA will have these signed off at a special board meeting on Thursday, UCU is doing one of its “informal consultations” to see whether it should formally consult members on whether to take this work forward.
What’s the work? Well:
- On the pay spine there will be a joint review of what exists in order to come up with a new spine for implementation in the 2024-25 academic year.
- On pay gaps there will be a joint review of available data in order to develop minimum standards and principles that can be applied by employers.
- On contract types a “positive recommendation” to address zero hour contracts will be put to employers, with the presumption that indefinite contracts with fixed or minimum hours to be the default mode of employment (though there is a little wiggle room on this to be discussed locally with union branches). Again, principles will be developed around graduate teaching assistant, postgraduate researcher, fixed term, and hourly paid contracts that employers will apply based on local consultation.
- And on workload there will be agreed guidance and good practice examples, the promotion of HSE management standards, and a need to consider workload management in organisational change planning.
Pay spine and pay gap work will be concluded by October 2023, contract types and workload activity by February 2024 – and ACAS will be involved in all of this work.
Meanwhile, in the USS dispute both sides have agreed to prioritise the restoration of benefits to pre-April 2022 levels, to work together to improve and clarify the way valuations are done, and to build “constructive dialogue” with the pensions regulator and the Department of Work and Pensions. As soon as the USS Trustee can confirm pricing we’ll know how an improvement in benefits and a reduction of contributions will work in practice – pending a statutory member consultation that UCU and UUK have been working on.
Update 17 March
UCEA took the terms of reference for the three non-pay areas of work to a board meeting on Thursday 16 March – the board agreed to the terms of reference.
UCU took the proposals as a whole to the branch delegates meeting (BDM), to the higher education committee (HEC -which is the one that gets to decide what happens next), and ran one of those “informal polls” of members. In short, there were three different answers.
The BDM voted in favour (52 per cent) of consulting members formally on the proposals but against (70 per cent) pausing strike action. Two thirds of 36,000 members who voted in the informal ballot wanted consultation and a pause in strike action (though the question conflated the two). HEC voted to continue strike action, but not to put the proposals to members.