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This month’s newsletter is dominated by our consultative ballot on pay for all our members of University staff.
Ballot papers and instructions on how to vote electronically will go out from next week.
Please make sure you vote in this important ballot.
As promised, we’re balloting all our members on the employers’ final offer of 2% or £425.
We think this is a below-inflation, real terms pay cut, and so we’re recommending that members vote to REJECT it.
There’s further information in the July newsletter (out soon) and on UNISON’s national website.
Ballot forms will go out from next week and members can also vote electronically.
We’ll be holding site meetings to discuss the issue and ask members to make sure that we all vote in this important consultation.
More to follow….
UNISON’s national Service Group Executive met last week to discuss the employer’s final offer of 2.0% or £425 (whichever is greater) from August 2018.
The group noted that the offer still represents a real-terms pay cut and does not come close to the pay claim of 7.5% (or £1,500 and £10/hour minimum wage).
Given that a motion passed at the January 2018 conference committed the Service Group to reject and ballot over any offer which falls short of the claim, UNISON will now conduct a national consultative ballot for all members falling under the national UCEA agreement. The recommendation will be that members reject the offer and threaten industrial action.
At Brighton, we have been clear that a pay offer which comes in at less than inflation is a pay cut, and that higher education workers have to be organised enough to campaign for more. As soon as the timescale for the ballot is announced, we will do everything we can to make sure that all our members vote and that we can collectively campaign for a pay rise worthy of our hard work.
UNISON negotiators met the employers’ organisation (UCEA), alongside sister trade unions yesterday (10th May) to hold the final of three scheduled meetings to discuss the pay increase for all University employed staff due on 1st August 2018.
UCEA made a final offer of 2.0% or £425, whichever is greater. (At Brighton, this would mean a range of increases between 2.0% and 2.6% for grades 1, 2 and 3.)
This is an increase from the earlier 1.7% offer, but hardly a substantial one. When you consider that the pay claim made by unions was designed to make up for years of sub-standard pay increases, to offer at least a full percentage point below the current level of inflation, when all predictions expect inflation to remain above 3.0%, this is a real terms pay cut and one that this branch thinks our members should reject.
The next step is for the Service Group Executive to meet on 23rd May, and a consultation of branches and members will inevitably follow.
UNISON has welcomed a commitment by the University of Bath to reinstate the living wage – currently £8.75 an hour – from next week, and seek accreditation as a living wage employer with the Living Wage Foundation.
But the union, which represents some 300 staff at the university, warned that while this is an urgently needed first step towards addressing low pay, more must be done to tackle the well publicised inequality at the university.
Commenting on the move, UNISON head of higher education Donna Rowe-Merriman said: “The scandal of low pay in the sector is something that vice chancellors across the UK can rectify by becoming living wage accredited employers. That alone will provide a pay rise for more than 10,000 people employed at UK universities.”
The University of Bath began paying the living wage in 2015, but stopped when the rate was increased to £8.45 an hour in November 2016.
The rate is set independently by the Living Wage Foundation every year, reflecting the cost of living.
The university will now start paying the 2017/18 rate of £8.75 an hour from 1 May, in a boost for the lowest paid staff in accommodation, hospitality and estates.
But negotiation and consultation is still going on over enhanced rates for weekend working – so staff who work weekends will not necessarily see their pay increase.
The three unions at Bath – UNISON, Unite and UCU – have all been campaigning for the living wage to be reinstated. In November last year, UNISON used local pay negotiations to ask the university to seek accreditation with the Living Wage Foundation.
The University Court voted overwhelmingly in support of the living wage in January this year, but the senior managers in the vice chancellor’s group refused to increase pay unless the lowest paid staff agreed to sacrifice their weekend working supplement.
University bosses scrapped this condition after UNISON moved to ballot affected members.
“We are pleased that university senior management has agreed to reinstate a living wage,” said branch secretary Christopher Roche this week.
“Staff and students were appalled when university bosses sought to force low paid staff to choose between their weekend protections and receiving a living wage.
“The prospect of a consultative ballot for industrial action seems to have persuaded university management to reconsider and agree to pay a living wage unconditionally.”
He added that the wage “is the absolute minimum any worker should expect, particularly in an organisation that chooses to pay its senior managers as much as those at the University of Bath.
“UNISON members stood their ground to demand a living wage and I hope they serve as an inspiration for other workers in the area.
“We look forward to collectively addressing the remaining problems at the university, including maintaining appropriate enhancements for staff required to work weekends, the lack of pay progression for staff on lower grades, their under representation in university governance and the widespread use of zero hours contracts.
“After a torrid 18 months of bad publicity, I hope the reinstatement of the living wage marks a turning point in the way our university is run.”
At Brighton, we have never managed to get the University to agree to become a Living Wage Employer. Some of our lowest paid members have now fallen behind the £8.75/hour threshold, in part, due to the 37 hour week here, which is higher than many universities. We’ll keep campaigning against low pay and long hours in one of the most expensive regions of the country.
The five higher education unions (including UNISON and UCU) met UCEA, the employers’ organisation for the second of three scheduled meetings last week.
UCEA have published a document, which tries to make the point that higher education workers have done quite well for ourselves lately (!) and that universities are either short of money or will be soon.
Anyway, an offer of 1.7% was made, with a bit more for employees on lower grades. This is similar to the final offer last year, an whilst it’s encouraging that they’re looking to give more to the lower grades, it falls well short of what we’re asking for (7.5% or £1,500 and £10/hour minimum for all).
Both sides will meet again in mid-May and we’ll try to report back after that.
If the final offer falls short of inflation (RPI of 3.6%), then we’ll be looking to ballot members with a recommendation that we threaten action unless they come up with more.
We’re pleased to announce that we have arranged for Bob Woods, from Workstress, the national work -stress network, to speak to UNISON members.
Bob will talk about how and why people feel stressed and what we as trade-unionists can do about it.
He’ll be here on Thursday 19th April, Room 117, Mithras House from 12pm to 2pm.
All UNISON members are invited for 12pm for a free light lunch and Bob will start at 12.30pm.
Feel free to drop in for some or all of Bob’s presentation and question & answer session.
We’re still campaigning for the University to run a proper survey on work-related stress, or we’ll do our own. More details to follow…
Many people will be aware that the Vice Chancellor has been shortlisted for the Guardian’s Higher Education Inspiring Leader Award, due to be announced on 24th April.
Whilst we recognise that there has been change and a new direction of leadership since Debra’s arrival a few years ago, we think you’d struggle to find many workers or students at the University who would regard the architect of those changes as inspirational.
We’ve seen the closure of Hastings campus, resulting in the avoidable destruction of jobs, livelihoods and real educational opportunities for the town. For the first time ever, the University offered voluntary severance to members of staff whilst simultaneously trying to force compulsory redundancy on selected people. Reorganisations have taken place, which may have made improvements, but stress levels have risen and some people have been made visibly ill as a result of having no clear direction, management or reasonable accommodation in which to work.
Our attempts to get the University to carry out a stress survey have been documented elsewhere, but we’re not convinced that a failure to identity and deal with workplace stress is the actions of an inspirational leadership.
In short, the VC has taken steps to turn the University of Brighton into a higher education business with an emphasis on the paying student-customer always being right and the culture of Brighton – being prepared to be a bit different, forgotten, because we need to do what other universities are doing, because someone senior says so.
Whilst we don’t accept that league tables have anything to do with educational quality, by the standards set by the government, it’s fair to say that the University has not exactly improved.
If transforming the public service of higher education into degree-factories, openly competing with each other is the goal, then the VC has partially achieved the first steps, but for many people working here, this transformation is not inspired. It is the worst thing that could happen to a public service, as we’ve seen with NHS privatisation and outsourcing, linked to an obsession with big business being the solution to all our problems.
To be fair, it is true that Debra has made a real effort to promote the ideas of equality and diversity across the University and many people at Brighton are, quite correctly, pleased about that. However, genuine equality for all, means committing resources to making life easier for those with long-term illnesses, disabilities or caring responsibilities and we’re constantly being told that whilst the University will be sympathetic, when it comes to finances, there is nothing available to make life easier and consequently address inequality properly.
The VC has taken steps to address environmental issues, but as we’ve pointed out before, successive People and Planet Awards have shown the University to be hopelessly lacking in workers’ rights, scoring a derisory 10%, in part, as a result of the outright refusal to consider becoming a Living Wage Employer. In fact many lower grade staff, mostly women, have dropped below the real living wage of £8.75/hour.
So, we think that for the VC to be a truly inspirational leader, we’d like to see genuine change at the University. As a start…
- Reducing the 37 hour working week
- Equalising the annual leave – 35 days pro rata for all staff
- Transferring casual staff (academic and support) to permanent jobs
- Restoring Winter Holiday celebrations
- Making moves to implement genuinely gold standard equalities policies
- Introducing realistic wage restraint at the top to fund living wages at the bottom and becoming a Living Wage Employer
A happier, less stressed and valued workforce would undoubtably see a Vice Chancellor which committed to those things as inspirational.