EI affiliates the AUT and NATFHE have reacted with astonishment and anger at news today that the Universities and Colleges Employers (Ucea) Association have gone back on a commitment to meet them next week to try and resolve the current pay dispute for higher education staff.
Earlier this month Ucea agreed to meet with the unions on Tuesday 28 March and intimated they were likely to make a pay offer. With less than a week to go before the talks the employers are refusing to meet with both the AUT and NATFHE unless they suspend their industrial action. This is despite the fact that they have stated clearly that they are in a position to make an offer. Members of both unions are currently undertaking an assessment boycott in UK universities. The unions and students are keen to get the dispute resolved as quickly as possible to minimise any disruption to students' studies and their graduation prospects. AUT general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'The employers know full well that the action will not be called off until we get a credible offer. In 2004 they met us unconditionally and attaching conditions to the meeting at this late stage flies in the face of their supposed commitment to dialogue rather than dispute. 'I am astonished and appalled that they have chosen such a deliberately harmful approach to the negotiations. Students and staff want to see this dispute resolved as swiftly as possible, the employers clearly don’t. This late blocking tactic is an insult to both the students and staff that they claim to value so highly.' The meeting planned for next Tuesday will include the five other trade unions representing other staff in higher education institutions - even though the largest, Unison, which includes cooks and cleaners, will be on strike over pensions on that day. Roger Kline, the head of the universities department at NATFHE, said: "Ucea states it will not negotiate with NATFHE and AUT unless industrial action is suspended, yet this condition is not applied to the non-academic unions whose members will be involved in strike action on the day of the negotiations. "This display of double standards clearly demonstrates that Ucea does not want to see an early resolution to the dispute. This is deeply hypocritical and will only lengthen and intensify the pay dispute." Vice-chancellors recently received a 25% average increase over three years taking their average salary to £145,000. Lecturers' pay has declined by 40% over the last 20 years, he said.