Bristol Uni Vice-Chancellor blames other unis for lack of progress in strike negotiations

Industrial action is due to start on Monday


Vice-Chancellor of The University of Bristol Hugh Brady has blamed other universities for the lack of progress in negotiations relating to the upcoming lecturer strikes.

In an interview given to The Bristol Tab, Hugh Brady said that because Bristol Uni is financially healthy, they could offer a higher settlement in the strike negotiations than other unis.

While Bristol uni can afford to pay their lecturers more, other unis cannot afford to do the same without creating redundancies.

Brady told The Bristol Tab: “The source of some frustration from the national negotiation is that many of the employers felt that they were not in a position to offer that higher settlement without job cuts to services.”

UCU regional official, Nick Varney, said: "Strike action is a last resort, but the employers’ refusal to deal with these key issues at a national level has left us with no alternative."

Earlier this month, the Vice-Chancellor of The University of Loughborough emailed all staff stating that what the UCU is asking for is “unaffordable", and that he may have to “break the commitment [he] has given to avoid a University-wide redundancy scheme”, to which he sees “no alternative”.

Reports at the start of the month also indicate that three UK institutions are on the brink of bankruptcy, using loans to tide them over.

“The frustration for us is our balance sheet is much healthier than most universities […] and the frustration for us that for example a higher settlement wasn't reached, we haven't been yet able to offer a multi-annual pay award for our staff.”

Brady also had plenty to say about other elements relating to the strike.

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The last round of industrial action drew massive support

Pensions

When asked about the pension scheme dispute, Brady insisted that the Joint Expert Panel be able to finish their work.

He expects that work to conclude in the first quarter of the next calendar year.

He said he understands how important pensions are to staff, acknowledging that “they want […] their defined benefit component of the pension plan, and I understand why.”

When asked if negotiations were ongoing between UUK and the UCU, Brady did not seem to know.

Brady said: “I would presume there are some back channels, I mean I'm not privy to that…

“It may be too late to avert industrial action, but never say never, but they should be talking and we're urging that they talk.”

Gender pay gap

One of the reasons that university staff are on strike, is the gender pay gap, currently standing at 13.6 per cent.

Brady said: “There is clearly more work to be done because we want to eliminate it by 2023. I certainly feel that if we continue to work in partnership with UCU that we can do that.”

The gender pay gap fell by 2.6 per cent since last year representing “good progress”, according to Brady.

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“Precarious contracts”

Brady said that the uni has established a “working party” to look at casualisation of contracts.

UCU data suggests that just over 41% of staff at UoB are on fixed term contracts, meaning that many employees face job insecurity.

Brady said that the uni are looking into “precarious contracts” in “all major categories of staff” asking if “there [is] a case for making them permanent posts.”

Refunds for students

Brady said: “Our focus at the moment is on minimising the risks to students, and I think that's appropriate. We could get tied up in knots thinking about the obligation and the legality of such payments.”

“I think it's a bridge – we'll cross it if it comes to that.”

When asked, "Can you commit to releasing a breakdown of where all the money from withheld pay will be going", he said:

"That withheld salary will go to bolstering the student experience and making up for lost time, and other support. That's what we did last time, we were very transparent about it, and we intend to do the same."

Workloads

A key concern for those striking is their workloads.

"This July [we agreed] a set of workload principles that have been endorsed by UCU which look at the totality of what we're asking staff to do and ensuring that the load is spread evenly and fairly and that there's recognition." Brady told The Bristol Tab.

The UCU said: "While we have made some local progress on casualisation and workload, it is deeply disappointing that universities overall have not done more to work with us to try and find a way to resolve these disputes."

Concluding statement

Brady said: “I think if it comes to industrial action, we [should] move into it in a spirit of collegiality, mutual respect, and maybe determination to do our best collectively to contribute to the resolution of what is a national dispute. […] But above all, staff feel passionate about this group of issues.

"I absolutely respect their right to strike, but let's move forward over the next eight days in that spirit of collegiality, mutual respect, and determination to influence the national debate in a positive way.”