As you will by now be aware, UCU members – as well as our colleagues in UNISON, Unite and the GMB – have been balloted on taking industrial action over the employers’ derisory offer of a 1% pay rise. Members have been suffering for some time now – we were offered 1% last year too. The year before that we got £200, with 0.5% and 0.4% in the years before that. Indeed, it’s fair to say that we’ve taken our share of the pain with a cumulative real-terms pay cut of 13.2% since 2008. Another below-inflation pay rise this year will only see that figure climb further still.
But not everyone in Higher Education has seen their pay fall. Vice-Chancellors, Provosts, Principals, Directors and Presidents have seen their pay rise by 26% in real-terms during the same austere period. You could be forgiven for thinking that we’re not ‘all in this together’. For that matter, it’s worth asking what ‘this’ actually is. In the wake of the financial crisis, and that Government’s Higher Education reforms, there were understandable concerns about university finance and the need to reduce costs. But those concerns have faded. Student numbers are up, and the sector is recording a healthy surplus – £1bn a year, according to the most recent figures. UCU believes that the sector – including the School – can easily afford our modest pay claim of inflation plus a degree of catch-up for previous years’ losses.
2004’s Pay Framework Agreement was meant to address the long-term issues around poor pay in the sector. Pay rises in subsequent years allowed wages to keep place with inflation, and living standards to remain stable. But since 2009, inflation has outpaced wages. The gains of the Pay Framework Agreement are close to being wiped out entirely, with workers around 8.5% worse off now than we were in 2004, and a jaw-dropping 22% worse off than we were at the start of 2009.
This is a unique opportunity to win a fair pay rise. Joint action with Unite, UNISON, the GMB and EIS will have a huge impact, and force the employers to take us seriously. A failure to act now will result in further years of miserly pay offers, and may well spell the end for national pay bargaining.
No-one wants to take industrial action. We are a community of committed academics and professionals, and we care about our School and the students we we serve. But we deserve better, and have been left with little alternative but to ballot for action. Over the course of two members’ meetings at the School – one each at Tavistock Place and Keppel Street – over 50 people came and heard the case for action. At both of those meetings, members expressed their anger and disappointment at the way the insulting way we have been treated by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association. Our employers aren’t interested in talking about equal pay. They’re not interested in talking about a national framework on redundancy. They’re not interested in offering us a pay rise that even keeps place with inflation. And in some places, they’re not even prepared to discuss the Living Wage.
The ballot closes at midday on Wednesday. If you’ve not voted yet, please do so now and vote YES to strike action and YES to action short of a strike. Only a ‘yes’ to both questions will deliver the change we need. Action short of a strike alone is not a viable option. Indeed, a strong ‘yes’ to both questions offers us the best hope of avoiding strike action entirely, as the employers realise how seriously we are taking this situation.
The success of this campaign requires your support. So yes, cast your vote for action on pay, and encourage your colleagues to do the same. But there’s more you can do besides. Recruit someone to UCU – tell them about the importance of joining a union, of personal protection and collective action. Put up a poster in your kitchen area or by your desk – this campaign needs to be visible! And get involved – our Branch Committee works hard, but we can’t do it all alone – the more people there are to do things, the more we can do for our members. Get in touch – send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We must be prepared for a potentially long fight. It may that a sustained campaign is required in order to win a fair deal. But with living costs soaring, this is a battle we quite literally cannot afford to lose. The case for action is compelling, and together we can win.