UNISON is to ballot members in higher education, urging them to vote for strike action for better pay.
The move follows a refusal from the employers to increase their 1% offer.
The union believes that the money is available for a higher pay increase this year, with many universities having cash surpluses available. In Wales, for example, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales reported a total surplus of £30m.
“Higher education employers can afford to improve on their miserly offer, and should reward staff who deliver quality services to students and staff,” said UNISON head of higher education Donna Rowe-Merriman.
“Pay rises below the cost of living over the last five years mean that our lowest-paid members, many of whom receive just above the minimum wage, have lost the equivalent of between £663 and £1,173 a year, with higher-paid staff losing even more.
“This is money families cannot afford to lose,” she added. “Low-paid members at the sharp end of the coalition government’s welfare reforms, such as the introduction of the bedroom tax, have been particularly hard hit.”
UNISON believes that no employees in higher education should be paid less than the UK living wage. But the employers admit that more than 4,000 across the sector get less than £7.45p per hour (£8.55p in London).
“Now is the time for staff to take a stand for fair pay in higher education,” said Ms Rowe-Merriman. “Everyone is entitled to be paid fairly and earn a decent living. UNISON members deserve a rise in their income that meets the basic costs of living.
“The sector that sets the rate for the UK living wage should use that as a benchmark for the lowest-paid staff in our universities.”
According to recent freedom of information requests sent to all UK universities by UNISON, the median pay of the highest-paid members of staff in the sector (including pension contributions and other pay-related elements) is £242,000.
The highest-paid employee receives over £500,000 a year.
“There is clearly money available for those at the very top in higher education,” added Ms Rowe-Merriman. “We believe it should be available for all who contribute to the delivery of excellent services in our world renowned institutions.
“Across the UK terms and conditions are being eroded, job insecurity is increasing and incomes are being squeezed. All UNISON members need to send the message that enough is enough and they are prepared to take action for better pay.”
UNISON’s recent pay consultation saw a clear majority of members vote to reject the pay offer and take part in strike action for better pay.
The union’s higher education service group executive took the decision to ballot members on industrial action in the autumn, alongside colleagues from other unions.
To build the campaign for joint union action with other trade unions, that ballot will take place in September.