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Keegan hopes to score with union-busting regulations!

Interesting bit from our newsletter…

Extension of the Minimum Service Level Regulations to HE?

As is the way with government, mission creep seems to have set in, with Gillian Keegan, the Secretary of State for Education – probably best known for swearing on camera – making an announcement at the Tory Party Conference that she was launching a consultation on extending the extremely controversial Minimum Service Levels (MSL), along with its regulations for the conduct of industrial action to the HE sector. 

The process and timetable for the consultation has still not been announced, but it is likely that these regulations will come into force early in 2024 with a view to severely restricting the ability of unions in our sector to take industrial action. However, this may not be the sure-fire hit with HE management that the government may hope for. The following is an excerpt from UCEA’s statement issued in relation to the Gillian Keegan announcement:

“…… UCEA and our members always study such proposals carefully before responding, but our current priority is working constructively with the unions on a number of vital pay-related matters including the review of the pay spine, workload, contract types and further action to reduce the already falling pay gaps in the sector. A crucial element of resetting industrial relations in the sector is developing a shared understanding of affordability. For the sake of students and staff alike, it is now vital to work together to end the sector’s recent cycle of industrial disputes.”

Unite’s National Industrial Sector Committee (NISC) are considering the regulations and hope to be able to provide a view and advice for branches in the near future. In the meantime, branch members may like to advise their MPs (for their institution’s locality and home constituency) of their objections to the regulations before we reach the end of the year. For more views (not endorsed by Unite) members might like to read a recent WONKHE article here.

Many media, union and legal commentators have already noted potential confusions, contradictions and flaws in the legislation, pointing out that MSL’s are usually concerned with safety rather than simply providing a service of some kind somehow. The logic of applying MSL regulations to HE is not at all clear – the sector, which likes to proudly think of itself as independent of government, does not even have a set of generally accepted minimum service levels for whatever purpose. And, surely, one requirement of the government’s Code of Practice – that the names of specified ‘essential’ workers be given to trade unions (forced to act as management enforcers? )- could prove very problematic.  

Perhaps, in the run up to the next General Election, the government is simply hoping to attract potential voters – for instance, students and their parents – who, frustrated by the costs of courses, can be persuaded to believe that forcing unhappy staff to work when they have voted for industrial action, is the right way ahead for the now corporatized sector – rather than improvement in funding that allows for improved pay and conditions.