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'Software problem' cited for UCU withdrawing ballot

‘Software problem’ cited for UCU withdrawing ballot

Employers are relieved that students currently sitting exams are no longer under threat as UCU announced that their ballot for industrial action has been withdrawn. UCU implies that this is because of ballot notice errors, identified by 78 of the 153 HEIs that received ballot notices from the union.

HEIs have been deeply concerned by the complacency of UCU over the errors and its disregard of the simple legal obligations UCU carries as a national union. This is why so many felt it was necessary to draw attention to the many discrepancies UCU has now cited as ‘software problems’.

However, these software problems have been significant. Almost every HEI challenge included significant numbers of staff listed in an ‘unknown’ category and ‘other’ category, making it impossible for employers to deduce the numbers, categories and workplaces of the employees that would be called to take action if a strike was called. In addition to this HEIs identified campus addresses that were inaccurate, having ceased to exist many years ago. One HEI even had a campus included that belongs to the local FE college and has nothing to do with the university.

There was also a genuine concern that UCU appeared to have failed to liaise adequately with their own branches, many of whom have good long-standing relationships and regular dialogue with their HEIs.

Professor Bill Wakeham, Chair of UCEA, said:

“Employers have been asking UCU to re-consider this ill-judged and inappropriate ballot from the outset but instead they ignored repeated and extensive requests over several weeks to correct the information and restart a valid process. Of course, unions have every right to pursue industrial action but, in doing so, they have to adhere to the legal framework for the appropriate democratic process. We now urge UCU to turn their attention to the national negotiation table and to seek resolution through meaningful dialogue and the formal disputes procedure. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this particular ballot was intended to disrupt the sector and its students at an early stage in a pay negotiation process that has a dispute resolution procedure built into it. We are pleased that UCU will now update the membership records but are concerned that this has been announced as a “postponement” of its ballot for industrial action because surely, such action should always be a last-resort option.”

Notes to editors

UCU declared a dispute and simultaneously announced its intention to ballot its members in universities and HE colleges on 22 April 2009. The ballot, run under the heading of Regarding: Dispute over redundancies and 2009 national negotiations, was scheduled to run from 1 May to Friday 22 May 2009. Each HEI (153) participating in the New JNCHES 2009 – 10 pay negotiations was sent a ballot notification letter at the same time.

The legislation with which a trade union has to comply, in order for any industrial action they take to be protected in law, is the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. In relation to notices, all that a trade union has to do is to take reasonable steps to ensure that it can provide the employer(s) with whom they declare a dispute with information as to the numbers, categories and workplaces of the members to be balloted and induced to take industrial action. The ballot notifications were sent to HEIs on 22 April failed to do this in a great many HEIs.

UCU revealed that it received 78 challenges from HEIs to the 153 ballot notices issued, over 50%. From challenge documents seen by UCEA, HEIs wrote to UCU stating that the information provided by the UCU to them was inadequate and contained significant errors.

For access to the FULL timeline leading up to the current position in relation to the new national negotiating arrangements - New JNCHES - and the recent actions taken by UCU please go tothe National Negotiations Timeline. This link provides access to documentation and correspondence from all sides.

For further information, contact:

Andy Fryer, UCEA Communications Manager: 020 7383 2444 or
Marc Whittaker, UCEA Communications Officer: 020 7383 2444 or