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Employers disappointed that Acas talks fail to change union demands and strike plans

29 November 2013

Employers have expressed disappointment that UCU, Unite, Unison and EIS still plan to try to disrupt HE institutions through a day of strike action on Tuesday 3 December, despite this week’s discussions at Acas to try to resolve their dispute. 

The unions choose to paint only a partial picture on pay - many staff will also receive generous incremental increases and contribution pay. Taken together, the pay increases this year are costing around 3% and this is at the limits of affordability for HE institutions. Following the strike day on 31 October*, UCEA’s 150 participating HE employers have confirmed that the pay increase offered is sustainable, fair and final. The trade unions are continuing to press for even higher and unaffordable increases**.

A UCEA spokesperson said:

“Less than 5%*** of staff voted for industrial action, so the recent strike day caused very limited disruption. The overwhelming majority of staff realise that the unions’ continuing demands for higher pay increases are neither affordable nor sustainable and they have no wish to cause any disruption to their institutions, and especially their students. Pushing pay costs even higher than the 3% already committed would simply put jobs at risk and nobody wants that. If the second day of strike action goes ahead, institutions will do their very best to protect students.”

The employers acknowledge the pressure on real wages across the UK economy during the present economic downturn. We have done extensive joint work with the unions looking at HE pay growth and examining the challenging financial issues facing the sector. So it is disappointing that the trade unions continue to deny the evidence on the real earnings growth that HE staff have seen*** and to portray any surpluses as if they were a pot of unallocated money. Surpluses are vital margins and needed to make up for cuts in capital funding so that institutions can reinvest in high quality teaching and research facilities for students and staff.

The employers remain willing to discuss the other important aspects of the unions’ claim to try to resolve their dispute. 

* Although there were pickets at many campuses, almost all institutions reported that they were able to operate throughout the day of strike action, and that students did not face significant disruption. Nine out of 10 of institutions reported “no to low” impact from the 31 October action. Overall, institutions’ reports indicate that 6% of staff took strike action.
** Throughout eight months of negotiations the trade unions have continued to demand pay increases to match their claim of RPI, plus “catch-up”.
*** See ‘notes to editors’ for more information.

For further information please contact: Andy Fryer, Head of Communications and Membership ( or Marc Whittaker, Communications and Events Officer ( on 020 7383 2444.

Notes to Editors

  1. UCU, Unison, Unite and EIS-ULA have been in dispute over the final offer since June 2013. According to the latest data available data from HESA, 378,250 people work in the sector - of these 29,741 (or 7.9%) voted from the four unions in dispute with only 18,000 (or 4.8%) voting in favour of strike action. The recent EIS-ULA ballot showed a slim majority (of 203 to 199) in favour of taking strike action, in concert with the other three unions. GMB has agreed to accept the pay offer.
  2. Aside from the 1% pay uplift, UCEA has offered joint work around the gender pay gap, casual contracts and flexible working to address issues which are important to the unions.
  3. Pay increase costs will actually total around 3% in most HEIs, as the 1% for all is on top of the 3% incremental increases for 43% of the workforce, plus merit awards.
  4. Over the period from 2001 (agreed with the unions in 2008 as the baseline for comparison) to 2012, the ASHE data indicate that both HE as a sector and HE Teaching Professionals as a group have seen increases in earnings ahead of inflation  and ahead of the public and private sectors.
  5. In FE, only UCU has not accepted the 0.7% offer; Unison and Unite both accepted 0.7%. In HE GMB accepted the 1% offer.
  6. All recent UCEA media releases, comments and letters to and from trade unions relating to pay discussions and protests are available on the news index page.


  1. HEIs must achieve and build their surplus levels to ensure sustainability and to fund essential investment, in an environment with massively reduced central capital funding. It is also unsustainable to use one-off surpluses to help fund recurrent expenditure such as employee salaries. UCEA pointed out that some 32 of 163 HEIs (roughly 20%) accounted for 65.4% of sector surpluses in 2011-12.
  2. The latest Hefce projection of sector surplus for the 2012-13 year is £659 million, equivalent to just 2.7% of income. The £1bn surplus figure (4.2% of income) quoted by the unions was for the preceding 2011-12 financial year. The £2bn surplus figure quoted by some unions never existed. A report from Hefce (October 2013, based on the 2011-12 accounts and forecasts through to 2015-16), highlighted that whilst university financial results for 2011-12 showed a “sound position overall”, the sector performance for 2012-13 is not expected to be as strong, with surpluses down by 32%.
  3. HEIs generally would aim for surpluses of up to 6% to help them cope with unexpected changes to income. HEIs must plan for the unexpected to ensure their sustainability. Some universities report that a margin of 7% of total income is needed just to maintain the existing infrastructure, while a surplus of 10% is needed for major growth. A 2.7% sector figure is an average that masks significant differences between HEIs and certainly does not make universities “awash with cash”.
  4. For more on ‘surpluses’ go to ‘Are universities really ‘awash with cash’? Julie Tam, Head of Policy and Data Analysis at Universities UK