Peace in our time?

There's been progress in sector disputes on pay, pensions, and working conditions

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

A “period of calm” will see industrial action on campus paused for two weeks, as the end may be in sight for our long running dispute on pay, pensions, and working conditions.

Strikes scheduled for the weeks commencing 20 and 27 February have been cancelled to allow “intensive” talks to take place – and UCU will not call any new industrial action during this period.

There’s clearly more to do at ACAS – with conciliation continuing through February. But as things stand, it looks like there has been some progress on each of the three aspects of the dispute.

On pay, following two days of conciliation talks at ACAS it appears that the lowest point on the pay scale (currently point 3, £18,898) will be abolished, and the whole scale reviewed. It does not appear that an offer that represents a significant change from the previous UCEA proposal (a minimum for 5 per cent) is on the table – in one of her signature video statements Jo Grady indicated that the offer has not been “substantially approved” though there are improvements for the lowest paid.

On pensions the commitments in an interim joint statement from USS Employers and UCU will see (if promising indications ahead of the 2023 valuation are correct) a return to the level of future benefits that existed before the April 2022 changes (so a return to the 1/75 accrual rate, the previous indexation arrangements, and the higher salary threshold) alongside a reduction in costs for members and employers.

There’s further commitments to explore other solutions for managing risk, and to enter into a constructive dialogue with the Pensions Regulator and DWP, on low cost options, and on divestment.

On working conditions there will be time-limited negotiations which could lead to agreements on tackling casualisation, on work-life balance, on reducing workloads, and on equality pay gaps. UCEA is consulting members on a commitment to end the use of involuntary (note that word) zero-hour contracts on campus.

Overall, it has been agreed by unions and employers that with regard to pay the Dispute Resolution process has been exhausted for the 2023-24 pay round – so work on other priorities can now commence. There’s still some hope of seeing some early pay uplifts, though those will arrive in March at the earliest.

The next steps on all of this involve further consultation – UCEA with its members, and the sector unions via their own representative structures. A lot therefore depends on how these statements land with members.

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