Leading Article: Waiting game after UCU's veto

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The Independent Online

The University and College Union finds itself in an awful hole following the ballot result last week. A vote of 10,126 to 6,517 to reject the new pay-bargaining machinery, negotiated so painstakingly by its own representatives last year, is hardly a resounding mandate when you consider the union has 60,000 members. Now, the UCU will have to work out what to do, having stuck two fingers up to the deal signed by all the other university unions and the employers. The support unions, representing porters, gardeners and cleaners, are not exactly rushing to support academics in their hour of need, particularly as the UCU rejects the notion of sitting around the table with the other unions to conduct pay negotiations.

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association are taking a robust line, saying that they are not going to budge. You can see why. They argue that they have conducted the negotiations and don't see why they should re-open them now, particularly as they don't really know what the UCU wants. Academics voting against the new machinery were rejecting a package of things. Some were against the idea of single-table talks; others were particularly exercised about the new disputes-resolution procedures; some were angered by the new timetable for pay negotiations.

The union will have to think long and hard about how to extract itself from this hole. It looks like it is in no hurry to do so, because it has decided to hold a meeting at the end of its annual conference in May to hammer out a line. Leaving it for several months will mean it loses momentum. On the other hand, it gives the UCU time to think carefully about what really is in the best interests of its members.

One issue ought to concentrate its mind seriously. This is the review that is taking place into how much extra money has been released into the university system by top-up fees and whether it can be used to boost salaries. The agreement struck at the end of the last pay dispute was that this review would be paid for by the Government. But it is understood that the Department for Innovation Universities and Skills is refusing to pay up because of the action being taken by UCU. Is the union really prepared to put substantial extra sums at risk, by its refusal to sign up to new bargaining arrangements?