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HE institutions report minimal disruption to students on strike day

HE institutions are reporting that strike action by UCU, Unite and Unison* is having minimal impact on students today (31 October 2013). Some trade union staff are striking over the 2013-14 pay offer of a 1% increase on all pay points from August 2013, together with joint working proposals on other aspects of the trade unions’ claim. 

The trade unions are demanding a basic pay rise of at least 3.2% to match inflation, plus an unspecified percentage for “catch-up”. With increments and contribution pay which many HE staff get on top of the general pay uplift, sector pay is already set to increase by 3%.

A UCEA spokesperson said: “Institutions tell us that the vast majority of staff understand the reality of the current financial situation and do not support action which would harm their institutions, and especially their students. Today’s action is passing off with only minimal disruption but since fewer than 5%** of staff voted to support this strike this was not surprising. Nonetheless, we are all disappointed that, after six months of extended talks and what we believe is a fair pay offer, these trade unions remain on a path to cause disruption.”

“The trade unions claim that HE institutions’ operating surpluses*** should be diverted to fund further increases in pay. This ignores the fact that, with central capital funding no longer available, institutions now have to generate at least this margin for essential re-investment in student facilities and campus infrastructure.”

“These pay increases will be seen as generous by many looking into the sector. HE employers value their staff and provide a good reward package to attract and retain outstanding staff. Pay in HE is keeping pace with comparable sectors and institutions are not experiencing recruitment or retention problems.”

Our employers are clear that the 1% pay uplift is a reasonable offer at the limit of affordability. UK economic conditions remain tough and HEIs continue to operate in a challenging and uncertain environment. The offer of joint work around the gender pay gap, casual contracts and flexible working addresses issues which are important to the unions.

Any form of industrial action is disappointing. We hope that the UCU, Unite and Unison will now reconsider the employers’ offer.
  
*GMB has agreed to accept the pay offer; EIS-ULA are in the process of balloting for strike action.
**According to the latest data available data from HESA 378,250 people work in the sector - of these 29,538 or 7.8% per cent voted from the three unions. 17,800 voted in favour of strike action, 4.7%.
*** The £1bn surpluses figure quoted by trade unions is 2 years old. In 2012/13 this is estimated to have fallen to £659m (HEFCE - Financial health of the higher education sector: 2012-13 to 2015-16 forecasts www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/year/2013/201329/#d.en.83594). There are also big differences between institutions with 20% of institutions accounting for 65.4% of so-called sector surpluses (HESA publication 'Finances of Higher Education Institutions 2011/12').

ENDS
For further information please contact: Andy Fryer, Head of Communications and Membership (a.fryer@ucea.ac.uk) or Marc Whittaker, Communications and Events Officer (m.whittaker@ucea.ac.uk) on 020 7383 2444.

Notes to Editors

The New JNCHES negotiating timetable is a process that usually runs across meetings in March, April and May. This forum allows for three negotiating meetings (and more if required and jointly agreed).

A 0.5% opening offer had been made by the employers at the first New JNCHES negotiating meeting on 23 April. This was increased to 0.8% at the second meeting on 8 May. The final offer of 1% and the commitment for joint work on zero hours, the gender pay gap and flexible working arrangements was made on 21 May 2013. Since then there have been formal dispute resolution meetings, as well as regular informal meetings with trade union officers to try to resolve the dispute and avert strike action.

All recent UCEA media releases and comments relating to issues in the lead up to today’s strike action are available here.