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Q and A Briefing: 2013-14 Pay Negotiations 

What is the background to the planned industrial action?

The New JNCHES (Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff) HE pay negotiations for 2013-14 between UCEA and the HE trade unions (EIS, GMB, UCU, Unison and Unite) reached the final offer stage in June 2013. The final offer was a 1% uplift for all staff, backdated to August 2013. The total pay increase for staff was around 3% across the sector, comprising individual increments, merit awards and the 1% uplift to the pay spine.  The award was accepted by GMB, but was rejected by the other four trade unions, which remain in dispute.

Why has UCL decided to implement the pay award before an agreement has been reached?

Implementation of the 2013 pay award in January is not intended to be ‘provocative’ in any way: in the absence of any prospect of resolution of the central pay issue, and following extensive meetings, employers took the view that they would regard the pay negotiations as concluded. Given that the vast majority of staff are playing no part in this dispute, employers told UCEA that they should not be kept waiting any longer for the increase which was due last August, and hence UCEA’s advice to institutions was to implement. 

What industrial action does UCU plan to take?

UCU has indicated itis planning to ask its members to escalate its continuous industrial action short of a strike from 28 April 2014.  The escalated action – if it is not called off - will take the form of a comprehensive assessment boycott of all marking, course work assignments and examinations.

How many members of staff will be taking part in this boycott?

It is not possible to predict exact numbers but the proposed action only involves UCU members and we think that only a relatively small number of staff will take part.  This is based on UCL’s data from the full day strikes in October and December 2013 and February 2014 and the two-hour strikes in January and February 2014. 4.3% of all UCL staff took part in the first strike day, reducing to just 1.2% of all staff on the last day.

What effect will the action have on students at UCL? 

We assume only a small number of UCU’s members will want to cause disruption to their students and lose pay for partial performance by taking this national industrial action. Nonetheless, UCU’s move to target students' education is a disappointing one which will, in the union’s own words, seeks to cause “maximum disruption” and is described as the “ultimate sanction”.  Such action could have a very serious impact on our students, including their ability to progress or secure employment, as well as on the institution as a whole.

Can HE institutions pay more to end this industrial action?

No. None of the disputing unions, including UCU, has moved from the stance that they will only settle for a substantial increase on the 1% pay award for last year. But HEIs were and remain clear that 1%, on top of the other increases in pay (increments, promotions etc) totalling 3-4% in most HEIs, was at the limits of affordability. The employers had been actively pursuing dispute resolution from May right through to December last year, but unions have not moved from an unrealistic pay claim (the original claim was for Retail Price Index (RPI) + ‘catch-up’).

The HE sector continues to face considerable uncertainty and financial insecurity; sustainability remains pivotal as HEIs make on-going adjustments to working within the new funding regimes.  Provost has outlined the current situation in his recent Long View  

Will HEIs, including UCL, deduct pay from staff for participation in the marking boycott?

Yes. UCU members were warned on their ballot papers that taking industrial action might constitute a breach of their contract of employment. Any member of staff who refuses to carry out any of their contractual duties as part of the industrial action will be committing a breach of their contract of employment.  It is UCL’s policy to withhold pay of staff who participate in the industrial action, see UCL Council Statement, November 2008. UCL will not accept the partial performance of the contract of any member of staff.  This means that if staff decide to take part in the continuous action short of a strike and do not fulfil all the requirements of their contract, they will not be entitled to contractual pay from the date when they start participating in the action.
In such circumstances, pay will be withheld on a continuous basis from when the member of staff commences participation in the action short of a strike. 

This approach is the one being taken by the vast majority of HE institutions that would be affected by this potential industrial action.  It is not intended to exacerbate the situation but is part of a clear and consistent sector response to action that is viewed as being potentially very damaging to our students.   

 Can UCL legally deduct pay for taking part in a boycott?

UCL is very clear on the well-established legal principle that employers are entitled to reject partial performance and to withhold pay for the full day.  Council’s 2008 statement on partial performance makes it clear that UCL will not accept partial performance of a contract of employment, including partial performance in the form of a part-day strike, and that pay will be deducted as a consequence.  Any industrial action is a breach of contract for which UCL is entitled to withhold 100% of pay for each day on which staff are unwilling to, or do not, perform their full contractual duties for that day.

UCL is dismayed that this form of industrial action has been designed to damage students’ education.  We always make students our priority. We will do our very best to protect our students as it is clear that this form of industrial action has been designed to damage students’ education.

Where does this leave last year’s (2013-14) pay negotiations?

UCU is well aware that UCEA and its 150 participating employers have been clear to all that there is no scope for further pay increases beyond those already offered. 

In addition to the baseline 1% pay increase for all, the employers offered joint work on other aspects of the trade unions’ claim, including the gender pay gap and hourly-paid and casual work. The employers regard these as important issues and UCEA will now be taking this work forward, though would welcome union involvement once this dispute is settled.