UCU members marching with NUT and PCS members during the strike action over pay on April 24th
UCU members marching with NUT and PCS members during the strike action over pay on April 24th

The University and College Union (UCU) warned on Friday that universities risked unnecessarily provoking serious industrial unrest in 2009 if they took up the employers’ association invitation to opt out of national pay bargaining arrangements.

UCU also offered immediate talks with the employers to resolve all outstanding issues in what it described as the interests of providing much-needed stability in the sector.

The employers’ body, the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA), has told universities they have until the end of March to opt out of national bargaining.

In response, UCU’s Higher Education Committee (HEC) approved plans for the union to write to every university vice-chancellor and principal warning that if any institution does decide to ‘opt out’ of national bargaining it would face local industrial action and greylisting.

The union will appeal to university chiefs to use their influence to reverse what it believes is an unnecessarily macho strategy from UCEA.

It said that talks needed to take place urgently on the issues facing the sector; including the UCEA opt out, the exclusion of UCU from current bargaining structures and the threats of a ‘zero pay increase’ from some institutions.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘We view UCEA’s macho strategy of refusing to talk to UCU, the largest higher education union, while at the same time encouraging universities to believe they can opt in and out of national pay deals, as a tactical disaster for our sector.

‘The current UCEA position is the equivalent of leaving the window open to let the burglar out.

‘UCU will target for action any university which seeks to destabilise the sector by opting out of national pay deals at this key time.

‘With the UK in recession, staff and management should be working together to provide stability.

‘Now, more than ever, we need stable national bargaining supported by all parties.

‘UCU is prepared to begin negotiations immediately on resolving our differences with the employers.

‘It takes both sides to negotiate and we today repeat our offer to use an independent third party, such as ACAS, to begin immediate negotiations.’

l UCU members at Epping Forest College have vowed to defend suspended branch chair Hugh Hobson in what it sees as an explicit attack on the union.

Following the appointment of new principal, Peter Sadler, an ominous attack on union members and local officers is gathering pace.

This follows on the union-busting activities of Peter Sadler over 12 months at his previous college, Bicton College, where he eventually left under a cloud of allegations.

Indeed the former UCU branch chair at Bicton College was also dismissed for alleged gross misconduct.

Members at the college report a climate of fear is operating at EFC with staff being subjected to arbitrary use of college disciplinary procedures over the past two months.

This has culminated in the suspension of UCU branch chair Hugh Hobson for alleged gross misconduct.

During the disciplinary process, UCU established that the evidence central to the charge was based on circumstantial and contradictory evidence.

Nonetheless, the college breached its own procedures by circumventing the policy on suspensions and suspending Hugh Hobson after the investigation and after the disciplinary hearing.

The decision on whether to dismiss the charge or to dismiss Hugh Hobson now rests with the Principal.

Hugh Hobson has lodged a formal grievance under the Employment Act 2002 (Dispute Resolution Regulations 2004) against his employer outlining that he has suffered a detriment as a result of his trade union membership and activities.

In response to this the branch passed the following emergency resolution on Wednesday 3 December and resolved to take industrial action should Hugh Hobson not be reinstated to his position immediately:

‘Epping Forest College UCU Branch expresses its outrage at the suspension and potential dismissal of Hugh Hobson, EFC QDL and Lecturer for Construction.

‘We consider his suspension and potential dismissal for alleged gross misconduct to be completely unwarranted, and one in which the college did not even ensure that the disciplinary procedure was correctly followed.

‘The branch considers this arbitrary and unjustified use of the college’s disciplinary procedure and its outcome to represent a detriment to Hugh Hobson and is victimisation for trade union membership and activities.

‘Further, the branch considers that the recent application of the college’s disciplinary procedure to a number of UCU members to represent a disproportionate and unjustifiable application of this procedure.

‘The branch resolves to organise a campaign in defence of Hugh Hobson to ensure that he is reinstated to his position without detriment and that the college ceases to misuse the college’s disciplinary procedure in an arbitrary and unjustified way.

‘The branch resolves to write to the principal of the college and indicate its clear intention to declare a trade dispute if Hugh Hobson is not reinstated to his position unconditionally.’

l The UCU held a day of action last Wednesday against casualisation in post-16 education at a number of universities and further education colleges, where lecturers were able to check their rights at legal surgeries organised by UCU.

The ‘Stamp Out Casual Contracts’ campaign, launched last month, aims to expose and stamp out the levels of casualisation in post-16 education.

In further education, two in five teaching staff (41 per cent) are not on a permanent contract.

In the higher education sector, more than a third (38 per cent) of academic and one in five (20 per cent) academic-related staff are on fixed-term posts.

The position is worst for research-only staff in higher education where more than three quarters (78 per cent) are on fixed-term posts.

The union warned that the abuse of casualised staff can no longer be swept under the carpet.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘The extensive and scandalous use of fixed-term contracts is the unacceptable underbelly of post-16 education in this country.

‘Our campaign will expose the dirty secret, ensure that staff know their rights and stop certain employers from exploiting their staff.’

The specific aims of the campaign are:

• to increase the use of permanent contracts for the thousands of professional staff employed on casual contracts across further, higher and adult education

• to resist vulnerable employment, including the imposition of zero hours contracts, bogus self-employment, pay lower than that of colleagues doing comparable work and to seek equal treatment for agency workers

• to oppose selection for redundancy on the basis of being on a fixed-term and/or part-time contract

• to transfer hourly paid and other staff on casual contracts to full-time or fractional contracts with the same terms and conditions as permanent, full-time salaried staff

• to secure fair working conditions for staff on casual contracts, including photocopying facilities and desk space.