Members of the University and College Union (UCU) in Higher Education are being balloted this week over the employers’ offer of a 2% pay rise for 2014/15.
The offer comes as branches were preparing to start a marking boycott over the imposed 2013/14 rise of just 1%.
The marking boycott has now been delayed for a week – to Tuesday 6 May – while the ballot takes place. Workers' Liberty members active in UCU will be campaigning for a no vote.
The total offer on the table is now just 3% over two years, plus a little extra on the bottom point of the pay scale that will bring most directly-employed staff up to the Living Wage (though not the many contracted-out employees who’re excluded from these negotiations). This is still below inflation, never mind any “catch-up” to compensate for the effective 13% pay cut since 2009. There is no guarantee that members who were docked a full day’s pay for each of the three two-hour strikes held earlier this year will be reimbursed, and there are no guarantees on the equality aspects of the pay claim (addressing the gender pay gap, for example).
The reality is, however, that after months of delay to the start of the marking boycott – originally proposed for January – many members are feeling demobilised. The long delay means that there is less and less marking left this year for the boycott to affect.
The employers’ organisation UCEA has threatened immediate 100% pay docking for anyone participating in a boycott: effectively a lock-out. While solid local action might push them back, it will be understandable if many members think that 2% is at least an improvement on the 1% offered in the public sector, and vote to take it, not least because the ballot’s been called in the Easter break and activists have little opportunity to put the case to members that action can win.
Nonetheless, we should try to have that argument where we can.