The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) and the higher education trade unions, which include UCU and UNISON met at national level on 22 March as New JNCHES (the Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff) for the first of the three agreed meetings of the higher education pay negotiating round for 2016/17.

The unions submitted a joint claim on 11 March, which included a 5% increase to all points on the 51-point pay spine plus a range of additional pay and pay-related elements. The trade unions’ claim also seeks further joint employer and trade union work on the gender pay gap and on HEIs’ approaches to casual staff employment. 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 the 2015-16 pay settlement.

Employers in the sector have made an initial offer of 1% to all spine points, which is 0.7% ahead of the current rate of inflation at 0.3%.

The next New JNCHES meetings are due to be held on 28 April and 19 May 2016.

However UCU has now given notice to all HEIs, in a letter dated 5 April, of a ballot of its members that commenced last week and will run until early May. We understand that UCU’s communication with its members talks of a campaign of industrial action that could begin in the week commencing 23 May incorporating both strike action (a two-day strike is mentioned) and a boycott of assessment and marking (with further strike action mooted in institutions that responded with 100% withholding of pay).

UCU is attempting to lodge a dispute with the University of Bolton regarding the joint trade unions’ claim at a time when the agreed process for negotiating on that claim at a national level has barely started and has not yet been exhausted.

Bolton supports the 2016-17 New JNCHES bargaining arrangements and expects all the parties to remain committed to the process and to continuing constructive dialogue. UCEA is negotiating on our behalf in relation to the national pay award and it is worth noting that it is against a backdrop of exceptional financial challenge and uncertainty within the sector.

With our University strategy and TIRI agenda in mind, the relationship between academic colleagues and our students is at the heart of the student experience and is paramount. The University can not understand at this state why UCU is prepared to consider asking its members to target students’ education and their examinations at this time. We are sure that the vast majority of academic colleagues at the University will not support this premature ballot – given the potential impact any industrial action would have on the student experience locally at Bolton.

We always make students our priority so we will of course have to plan for any disruption that could occur to be kept to an absolute minimum.






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