Pay dispute nears conclusion as UCU and UCEA agree to return to negotiations

After an extended labor dispute that recently threatened excessive disruption to the grading of assignments, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) and the University and College Union (UCU) have announced intentions to return to the bargaining table.

The statement is considered a breakthrough in the talks, which have been stagnant for weeks. Though the UCU has publicly demonstrated several times in their fight to decrease the wage gap between university administrators and staff, these actions have thus far been to no avail.

However, now that lecturers have promised to boycott marking assignments until an agreement has reached, University administrators are far more receptive to the union’s demands.

Obviously, the marking boycott was of great concern to students, particularly for third-years who cannot graduate without receiving final marks.  Not surprisingly, the National Union of Students (NUS) has recently stated its support for the striking workers.

The UCU appeared particularly pleased with the new developments. UCU general secretary Sally Hunt, told The Independent that, “It is in everyone’s interests that this dispute is resolved and we will approach any talks positively.

“It is important to note that while these planned negotiations are a positive sign, the sides are still in the early stages of the labor talks.  The exact wording of the joint statement from the two sides called for, “exploratory talks…to seek an early positive dialogue on the key issues.”

The positive wording of the statement is obviously grounds for optimism for those monitoring the strike, but it appears that the impending talks are merely preliminary discussions to alleviate tensions between the two sides.  The two sides need to negotiate extensively to bridge the gap between them.

As of now, no time has been announced for the promised exploratory dialogue between the UCEA and the UCU, but the enthusiasm from both sides and the description of the new development as a breakthrough fuels optimism that the disruptive labor dispute may be resolved in the future.

Recent figures released by UCU, suggest that teaching and educational professionals are the group of workers most likely to put in unpaid overtime thereby clocking up the most free hours each week.

UCU have claimed that the figures demonstrate the ways in which tutors and lecturers go beyond the requirements of their job and put in the extra unpaid mile, despite real-term pay cuts.

The figures, released as part of ‘Work Your Proper Hours Day’, reveal that over half (54.2%) of teaching professionals do extra unpaid work each week. This is up from last year, when teachers ranked third on the list of professionals working overtime.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “Most people are putting in extra unpaid hours compared to last year, but even more teachers and lecturers are going that extra unpaid mile. Not only are teachers and lecturers putting in an extra hour a week of unpaid overtime compared to last year, they are also now more likely than any other group of professionals to be doing unpaid work.

“This commitment is all the more admirable considering the insulting real-terms pay cuts their employers continue to offer them. The time has come for colleges and universities to recognise the hard work their staff do, reward them fairly and sort out their workloads.”

Michael Sloan