Trade unions

iStock_000007036427_ExtraSmallUnions can help their members with personal advice and support when a dispute arises(for example, grievance or disciplinary 0r research misconduct)

Unions also have a role in negotiating improvements at the level of systems and procedures.

Recognised unions in further and higher education institutions include

  • Britain’s General Union
  • Educational Institute of Scotland
  • UCU
  • Unison
  • Unite the Union, formerly Manufacturing, Science and Finance (MSF) ( the public service union)

These unions commonly represent different categories of employee.

  • Academics and senior managers or administrators who may be classified as academic-related are eligible for membership of UCU.
  • Assistant staff normally  join another of the recognized unions.
  • In unions with medical schools staff may belong to the British Medical Association.
  • Other professional associations may offer support to their members.

An institution’s relations with the unions may be complex. It will have more than one union to deal with. Higher education has attempted to resolve this difficulty through the Joint National Committee for Higher Education Staff (JNCHES).

UCU in particular may be placed in a difficult position about conflict of interest in a dispute where the institution’s senior management are also its members and it is asked to represent a junior member of staff who is its member.

The majority of ‘collective issues’ which affect all, or a significant number of staff, are discussed locally at a ‘single table’ at which all of the Unions recognised by the University are represented equally.

UCEA, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association

UCEA provides a common forum which institutions may rely on to consider practical and policy questions affecting all institutions and through which ‘joint’ discussions may be explored with the unions acting through JNCHES.

The New Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff (New JNCHES) is the central committee for multi-employer negotiations and dialogue on pay and pay-related issues. In addition to the central negotiating committee, New JNCHES has a number of standing forums and working groups.

UCEA does not have authority to take decisions binding on universities, which are autonomous and take their own employment decisions, within the law.

Some challenges to think about

Employer and unions: the problem of taking sides
Traditionally negotiation between employers and trade unions has been adversarial. Is this always in the interests of employees?

Employer and unions: mindsets, old history and the missing themes
Traditional preoccupations of the union movement may leave out problem-areas which can cause disputes. How comprehensive are the encounters in your institution?

Employer and unions: non-unionised employees
In all institutions a proportion of employees will not be union members. How should their interests be protected?

In many institutions an employee may be accompanied at a hearing only by a trade union representative or a fellow-employee. This means that someone who is not a union member may be denied informed and experienced support.