University unions have rejected a final offer from the sector’s employer body, saying it ‘falls well short’ of what they are demanding.
Unions met yesterday (26 January) with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), and the body slightly increased its offer from between 4% and 7% to between 5% and 8%, saying this was “a full and final pay offer”.
This was the third and final meeting for the 2023-24 higher education pay negotiations, three months ahead of when it would usually be in a bid to avert planned strikes for February and March.
Around 70,000 university staff went on strike over three days in November over pay and working conditions.
UCEA said its latest university pay offer was the highest uplift it has offered in almost 20 years, with between 2% and 3.2% to be paid from 1 February and the remaining uplift from 1 August. About half of staff will be eligible for an increment up to a value of 3%, on top of the pay award.
Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, said the new offer was “welcome and testament to the effective strike action our union has delivered”.
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“However, it is immediately clear this offer will do little to protect our members in a cost-of-living crisis, nor is it at the limit of what a sector with over £40bn in reserves can afford,” she added.
“The offer is another devastating real-terms pay cut for tens of thousands of our members, following over a decade of below inflation pay awards. A much-improved offer on pay needs to be made alongside serious commitments to end the sector’s reliance on insecure contracts and alleviate dangerously high workloads.
“We remain in dispute but determined to reach a negotiated settlement. There is more than enough time for employers to find a way forward that avoids widespread disruption.”
The UCEA added: The talks and final pay offer did not yet include other key issues, including the desire from all to reduce the gender, ethnicity, disability and intersectional pay gaps.
“We have agreed with the trade unions that these will be discussed in separate talks. UCEA and its HEIs are committed to this final offer for 2023-24 despite UCU’s attempt to continue industrial action over last year’s closed pay uplift.”
Professor George Boyne, chair of UCEA, said the organisation had “pushed the pay packet to the sector’s limits”.
“Clearly the difficult inflationary costs are a joint concern for employees and employers alike but, recognising how inflation disproportionately affects lower paid staff, employers committed to implementing a proportion of this award six months early.
“Employers have looked beyond recent and ongoing disputes relating to a closed previous round to commit to arriving at the best available outcome for staff in such testing times. We urge the trade unions to now consult their individual members in carefully considering this detailed final offer to allow for the interim pay uplift to reach staff as soon as possible.”
All five higher education unions rejected the offer and billed it as a “real-terms pay cut”.
They have asked employers to make an inflation-based offer backdated to August 2022.
In a joint statement, they said: “We reject any attempt by employers to divide university workers and we will continue to work together to put pressure on employers to address the crisis in the sector.
“We agreed that to not make an offer that meets inflation to those university workers at the bottom end of the pay spine is particularly egregious while believing that all university workers are suffering year-on-year pay cuts. To do this, employers must increase the total amount of funding being provided for the pay of university workers.”
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