UNISON urges HE employers to ‘eradicate poverty pay’

‘We can and we will stand up for better pay,’ higher eduction delegates are told

UNISON delegates at today’s higher education conference urged employers to “eradicate poverty pay” in their sector.

They passed a detailed motion addressing a range of pay ambitions, including a new minimum, bottom spine point of £12 an hour, all universities becoming Living Wage Foundation employers, and a maximum 35-hour week for all staff.

The motion outlined an “unprecedented attack on HE pay” over the past two years. Employers made no offer to their staff for the year 2020/21, and only 1.5% for the majority of staff in 2021/22 – almost all of which will be taken up by the government’s increase in national insurance payments.

The increases in utilities bills and food prices means that inflation is predicted to soon exceed 4%. While staff are working harder than ever, their pay is failing to keep up.

On top of that, universities continue, on average, to pay their female staff less than their male counterparts, despite equal pay legislation being in place for over 50 years. And reports show that Black staff earn less than their white counterparts.

Introducing the pay motion, Mobina Begum (above), chair of the HE service group executive, told delegates: “You’ll be fully aware of the way in which our pay has eroded over recent years. We have been denied the pay awards that we need and deserve.

“This motion is about making sure that the message is delivered loud and clear to the employers, that the time to act is now – employers have to sit up and take our claim seriously.”

The cost of living was now “rising to levels not seen for decades,” she added. “We will be challenging employers to make sure that our pay keeps up with these costs and catches up with the pay we’ve lost.”

Ms Begum also applauded the colleagues in nine branches across the UK who are taking strike action against the current year’s pay offer. “Along with UCU, we are showing that we can and we will stand up for better pay,” she said.

Ray Burns, from Liverpool John Moores University branch, talked about the unfairness experienced by staff working 37.5 hours a week but only got paid for 35 hours.

More generally, he said: “There are many members in jobs within our institutions whose pay is less than £10 an hour. Leading UK money experts are now saying that the £10 an hour minimum wage is outdated and we should be leading the fight for £12 an hour minimum wage.

“A lot of our low-paid members have the necessity to work two or even three jobs, rushing from one job to another to keep a roof over their head, put food on their tables and clothes on their backs,” he added.

“These families have little to no money in reserve for when the unexpected happens. When the unexpected does happen, they are forced to turn to modern-day loan sharks for assistance.

“Let’s eradicate the need for the cyber finance bandits and provide a real living wage for our members across the UK.”

Andy Beech, vice-chair of the SGE (pictured at the top), added: “We must make sure that, if our employers do not give us what we deserve and what we expect, we move forward and take on them, we make sure that they realise we are not going to accept a substandard or derogatory pay offer this year.”

Conference called on the service group executive to pursue joint union negotiations and produce a joint claim that seeks to incorporate the following points:

  • negotiate a consolidated pay award of a flat rate of £1,900 or 5%, whichever is greater, with a minimum of an above inflationary pay rise;
  • establish a minimum bottom spine point of £12 per hour for a 37-hour week, and negotiate so that all universities are accredited Living Wage Foundation employers, ensuring that all staff on campus receive at least the Living Wage rates;
  • negotiate similar consolidated increase on London Weighting and all other allowances negotiated nationally;
  • negotiate a national agreement with the HE employers to oversee the introduction of a maximum 35 hour working week in all universities.
  • establish a Scottish sub-committee of the new joint negotiating committee for higher education staff (JNCHES), to deal with matters not currently being dealt with at the new JNCHES committee;
  • negotiate on joint employer and union action to eliminate the gender and ethnic pay gap, working with regions, branches and sister trade unions to achieve these ends;
  • build a campaign for all universities to become accredited Foundation Living Wage employers;
  • negotiate for a national agreement to reduce precarious employment in higher education – seeking, as far as possible, for staff to be employed on permanent contracts. Negotiate for a national agreement to bring outsourced workers in higher education back into direct university employment;
  • in the event that the joint pay claim is not met by the employers, seek to escalate the pay campaign, with a clear plan, in conjunction with fellow higher education trade unions. This may include lawful industrial action to strengthen the campaign in accordance with UNISON rules relating to industrial action;
  • if the joint pay claim is not met in full by the employers for 2022/23, The service group executive is to explore the option of a multi-year pay deal for 23/24 with branches within the service group.