UCU Must Not Ditch National Pay Strikes for Local Bargaining

The undersigned members of the Further Education Committee, national negotiators and regional FE officers are deeply concerned about decisions made at the special Further Education Sector Conference held on 13th December to discuss FE national bargaining and pay campaigning strategy. We are dismayed at the vote (by 40 votes to 34) to pull the union out of this year’s pay campaign.

We are also outraged at the decision by a vote of 2:1 of the FEC Officers to halt the pay ballot two days before its closure. Members will rightly feel that they have wasted time and energy spent campaigning only to be denied the outcome of this process. The vote by 40 members at the conference on Saturday has denied thousands their democratic voice.

The ill-timed FESC was requisitioned with the intention of overturning the FEC’s pay strategy. Attendance was understandably low – less than 70 delegates were present. It was very difficult for many branches to organise a meeting and find a delegate who could attend at this time of year.

We believe there will be widespread incomprehension and anger among members at this narrow decision to overturn the democratic mandates from annual conference and a membership consultation in September in which 85 percent rejected the AoC offer. That this decision was taken during a national pay ballot in which members were being urged to vote Yes demonstrates a disregard by those who requisitioned the conference for basic negotiating and bargaining strategy as well as for union democracy.

The votes on Saturday in favour of dropping any action over this year’s claim and rejecting national strike action over pay puts the union and its national negotiators, a majority of whom have signed this statement, in a seriously compromised position just as we are about to prepare another pay claim and open negotiations for the 2015-16 pay round. We believe this has damaged the union.

We are deeply concerned about the effects of this motion which rules out any national industrial action over pay until, possibly, 2016/17. Our members’ pay has been cut by 17% over the past five years. They cannot wait for another three years before we might start fighting collectively as a national union over pay.

We believe that without a programme of national strike action the strategy now adopted will leave less organised branches unable to use the strength of the national union to lift themselves up to the levels of more organised ones. The clear danger of encouraging branches to bargain on pay locally without a national strike action framework will be to allow managements to play off our pay against working conditions. Rather than levelling us all up and engaging in shared action, as national action can do, local bargaining on pay would lead to far greater unevenness across the sector in respect of pay scales and terms and conditions.

We therefore believe that if we are serious about UCU collectively defending members’ pay, jobs and conditions and not retreating to a call-centre style servicing union which focuses on individual casework the December 13th decision to ditch national action cannot remain unchallenged.
Our aims, which are UCU’s current policies, must be to restore pay to the proper rate for the job, retain national pay scales, and deliver national binding agreements with the employers through effective national bargaining. We recognise that there can be no short cuts to achieving this.
We will be calling meetings in the New Year to discuss how we can get our union back on track by bringing together all those angered by the overturning of a potentially effective pay strategy and its replacement with something both inherently dangerous and ineffective.
Signed (all in personal capacity):

Alan Barker, FEC and Chair, East Midlands FE Committee
Mandy Brown, FEC
Tim Dalrymple. Chair, London Region FE Committee
Mick Dawson, FEC and Southern Region Chair
Jon Gilhooley, FEC
Margot Hill, FEC and National Negotiator
Dawn Livingston, FEC
Richard McEwan, FEC Vice-Chair and National Negotiator
Laura Miles, FEC and National Negotiator
Loraine Monk, FEC
John Murphy, Joint Chair, FE Committee North West Region
Graham Mustin, Secretary, FE Committee, Yorks and Humberside Region
Brian O’Sullivan, FEC and National Negotiator, Chair, West Midlands Region
Lee Short, FEC
Darren Tolliday, NW Region FE Committee Secretary
Rose Veitch, FEC
Sean Vernell, National Negotiator

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