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UCEA's move to 1.5% plus more for lower paid provides substantial improvement in penultimate meeting in the 2017-18 HE pay negotiations

UCEA and the HE trade unions (1) met yesterday (4 April) as New JNCHES (2) for the second of the three agreed meetings of the HE negotiating round for the 2017-18 base pay uplift (3). The employers substantially improved their pay offer to 1.5%, with extra loading to 1.8% for the lowest point. Last year’s settlement was 1.1% and, coupled with the progression and contribution pay that around half the employees covered are eligible to receive, the current offer means a sector pay increase value of around 3%.
UCEA, representing 148 participating employers, explained the extraordinary set of challenges facing all HE institutions throughout the UK and that this offer will already be at many HE institutions’ limit of affordability. UCEA emphasised the employers’ desire to negotiate a pay settlement that balances the high value they place on their staff, while not threatening the sustainability of their institutions and recognising the responsibility they have towards their students. Employers are committed to maintaining sector pay competitiveness against a currently rising set of inflation measures that make it impossible for the base pay increase alone to match them - as is being seen across the economy. UCEA emphasised the severity of ongoing financial challenges for the participating employers (4), including significant cost increases, the challenging funding context and huge Brexit uncertainties. It was also noted that at some HE institutions there are already significant redundancy programmes running.
Employers were pleased that the trade unions signalled a willingness to negotiate as the trade unions’ initial headline claim would require HE institutions to add £1.3bn to the pay bill (5), creating severe financial difficulties across the sector. HE institutions also feel that the merits of the excellent benefits and conditions they provide are too-readily overlooked, knowing that they do provide an excellent reward package for staff, including those on the lower spine points, often being the employer of choice in their locality (6). The claim also included other pay and pay-related elements plus some non-pay issues (7).
The parties discussed the many non-pay elements in the trade unions’ claim, noting the further joint employer and trade union work just under way this year. UCEA and the trade unions are currently working together on two pieces of joint work on the gender pay gap and casual employment as a result of last year’s pay settlement, both taking forward issues from the substantial reports on the gender pay gap and hourly-paid and casual employment, published in 2015 (8). There were however positive explorations relating to further joint work in these areas, including the potential for more work looking at gender pay gap and also ethnicity related issues.
Professor Mark E. Smith, Chair of UCEA, said:
“The employers discussed and responded to all elements of the trade unions’ claim, exploring these within a context of increasing costs, uncertainty and significant financial constraint in the sector. Affordability factors are key in these negotiations with participating HE institutions expressing concern to maintain sector pay competitiveness in a difficult inflationary environment. We are committed to arriving at the best possible outcome we can in what are unprecedented times. In the context of the trade unions' willingness to negotiate, we improved our opening offer to 1.5%, around 3% in total value to the pay bill, asking the trade unions to carefully consider this as a positive move towards a settlement. We have some further work to do before we can conclude on all the elements in this year’s negotiations, but we hope we are on track to do so successfully when we meet again on 27 April.”

(1) EIS, GMB, UCU, UNISON and Unite
(2) The Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff is the forum in which the employers, represented by UCEA, and the trade unions negotiate on the base uplift to the National Pay Spine. The National Pay Spine is used by most HEIs to underpin the pay and grading arrangements for staff up to Professor level (and equivalent), covering around 85% of the HE workforce.
(3) The three scheduled meetings are: Thursday 30 March, Tuesday 4 April and Thursday 27 April. At the opening meeting on 30 March the employers made an offer of 1.2%.
(4) The Employers’ Statement and list of participating employers can be found on the current pay negotiations page
(5) According to HESA data, total staff expenditure in 2015-16 was £18 billion
(6) The lowest point of the national spine (point 2), where used, currently provides an hourly rate of £8.25 for HEIs that use a 35 hour week, 10% above the latest National Living Wage. Many HEIs actually start their lowest grade at a higher point than this.
(7) The full trade union claim can be found on the current pay negotiations page
It seeks a headline increase to all spine points on the 51 (50) point national pay scale of RPI plus £1,200 or RPI plus 3% whichever is greater. This equates to a 7% uplift, using current RPI of 3.2% together with the additional 3% or £1,200 element (estimated to add a further increase to the overall pay bill for staff covered by these negotiations of 3.7%). It also seeks a further increase to the lowest point (2) on the pay spine that would equate to an uplift of up to 28%.
(8) Links to the two New JNCHES reports published in July 2015:
Joint report on gender pay identifies good practice in HE
Ground-breaking joint report on hourly paid and casual staff

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Notes to Editors
The New JNCHES negotiating timetable is a process that runs across meetings in March and April. This forum allows for three negotiating meetings, and more if required.