Understanding JNCHES (pronounced ‘jinches’) is necessary to understanding how the current Four Fights Dispute fits into yearly bargaining ’rounds’ alongside the four other unions which represent staff in higher education. 

UCU is one of five unions covered by the ‘New JNCHES’ agreement with the employers’ representative body, UCEA (Universities and Colleges Employers Association). The agreement created ‘bargaining machinery’ for formal negotiations over university staff pay and pay-related conditions. This post briefly explains where ‘JNCHES’ came from and how it connects to the UCU Four Fights dispute. I will cover how the collective bargaining process works in Higher Education in a further post. 

2001: a sectoral bargaining odyssey and the single pay spine… 

Following a dispute over pay and conditions, the JNCHES agreement replaced ten different negotiating bodies with a single, new, UK-wide Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff (JNCHES) [link]. Note this was later superseded by ‘New JNCHES’, which is also often referred to as ‘JNCHES’ for short.

N.B. UCU formed in 2006 as a result of the outcome of a ballot over merging, held in 2005. AUT and NATFHE had a long-established, close working relationship prior to this. Many of the standing orders that govern UCU are the result of agreements reached in order to finalise the merger. Read more about UCU’s history [here].

2004-2006: the Framework Agreement

UK-level negotiations concluded in April 2004 over the revision of pay scales in pre-92 universities, and a new single national pay spine was introduced. AUT members accepted a pay Framework Agreement and Memorandum of Understanding which led to extensive and detailed local negotiations for the implementation of the new pay spine arrangements, and for the evaluation and grading of roles. The national agreement, national contract, and national staff handbook for post-92 universities were not affected by the implementation of the Framework Agreement. See [here] for more about the post-92 national contract. 

UCU provided support and resources to branches and activists during 2004-6 for this implementation process. See [here] for examples of resources provided to branches at this time (you may need to log into MyUCU using your membership number to see these). 

Every branch’s implementation agreement was submitted to a UCU ratification committee to make sure it complied with UCU policy, and to ensure consistency in implementation across the sector. When elements of an agreement were considered to fall outside the agreement, these would be referred back to the branch with advice. This in turn was designed to provide leverage to the branch negotiators in arguing for terms compliant with the agreement. UCU still has an elected National Ratification Panel and an extended Hourly Paid Ratification Panel, to which any proposed local agreements that might impact upon the Framework Agreement should be sent for scrutiny before formal agreement is reached. 

2008: ‘New JNCHES’ agreement

This superseded JNCHES after a review which began following the Pay Agreement for 2006-9 [link]. 

2013: New ‘New JNCHES’ 

The agreement and bargaining machinery were further revised by agreement in 2013 [link]. We currently operate according to this agreement. However, we have found that the full scope of the New JNCHES agreement is often left unexplored, and there is frequent disagreement between the unions and employers’ representatives about where the bounds of possibility lie under the agreement. Pertinent to recent disputes, UCU and the other JNCHES unions hold that pay-related matters should be negotiated at the UK level sectoral bargaining table, whereas UCEA have repeatedly claimed that these are issues for local institutions to negotiate and agree with their locally recognised union branches. 

The agreement requires a minimum of four meetings per year under the revised (2013) arrangements. Where no agreement can be reached there is a formal Dispute Resolution Procedure to follow (laid out in ‘Annex A’ to the 2013 revised New JNCHES agreement). If no resolution is achieved through these further talks, the ‘JNCHES unions’ follow their own procedures to decide whether they will pursue a trade dispute by balloting for action.

2019/20 bargaining round: The UCU Four Fights

UCU is one of five unions covered by the ‘New JNCHES’ agreement with the employers’ representative body, UCEA (Universities and Colleges Employers Association) which sets out the ‘bargaining machinery’ for formal negotiations. 

In 2019, all five Higher Education unions rejected the first of UCEA’s ‘full and final’ offers in response to the [joint unions’ claim] as derisory: it offered a sub-inflationary pay increase of 1.8% and sparse warm words about the pay-related conditions element of the claim. All five unions balloted for action, lodging disputes with the employers in their own rights. UCU’s industrial dispute is founded on the aspects of the original joint unions’ claim that apply directly to the members we represent (academic and academic related / professional staff) [see the dispute letter here]. In Autumn 2019 UCU defeated the restrictive 50% postal ballot turnout threshold established by the [Trade Union Act 2016] to achieve a mandate for strike action and action short of a strike in 56 branches. In early 2020, another 14 UCU branches joined the fight following a re-ballot, and were joined in Scotland by colleagues in the [EIS who took strike action over pay]. 

See [this follow-up post] for more on how the JNCHES collective bargaining machinery works, and the options open to UCU in the next steps of the Four Fights dispute.

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