Trade union negotiators met with UCEA, the employers’ organisation on Thursday morning, in what was the final dispute meeting, after unions quite rightly rejected an offer of 3%, rising to 9% for the lowest paid. With RPI inflation now close to 12%, this final offer represents massive real terms pay cut and we can’t possibly accept it.
UCEA could have made a better offer, but led by Vice Chancellor and Principal feedback, they made no offer at all. Instead, we have a letter, available on UCEA’s website, which ludicrously claims that their intention to impose 3% on university workers “is a fair and reasonable offer in the current financial climate”. Under what possible circumstances would a 9% cut in real terms pay be fair and reasonable?
We understand that not all universities are financially secure. This is a result of the marketisation of higher education and significant real-terms reductions over the last few years of the value of the tuition fees paid by the government for UK students, combined with cuts to funding grants. So, in that sense, it’s not true that all universities can “afford” a decent pay rise, not if we’re talking about increasing pay in cash terms when there’s no clear indication that future income streams will materially increase.
This shifts the issue back to the funding of higher education and whether we have a government which is willing to pay education workers what we need to survive, or not. If we can’t fight back over massive, almost off-the-scale cuts to our pay now, then when will we?
No trade union wants to take industrial action if we can avoid it, but when UCEA’s board, made up almost exclusively, of extremely well-paid senior representatives from universities, think that we should just accept colossal attacks on our standard of living, then we have to fight back.
The attitude of UCEA is summed up by their Chief Executive making reference to “UCU and UNISON choosing to ballot in yet another attempt at industrial action.” This dismissive comment suggests that we’re not going to be successful, and that self-appointed Vice Chancellors and Principals know best – that we should all just accept worsening working conditions because there’s nothing we can do about it.
We can and we will, but we need a strong response in the form of united industrial action.
This means a serious approach to getting the vote out at all universities which will be balloting, by making sure that every member votes and votes YES to strike action.
Please make sure you vote, and make sure you get the message to everyone else you work with that they should also vote, and those not in a union should join and vote.
Ballot papers go out to home addresses from 22nd July. You can’t vote on-line but must return your ballot in the envelope provided by 26th August.
We’re relying on every member to play their part.