HE national day of action announced for 31 October

Members of UNISON, UCU and Unite unions have voted to take part in nationwide industrial action to seek an improved pay offer for their members in higher education, following the rejection of the employer’s final offer of a 1% increase on all pay points. The first joint day of action has been called for 31 October.

The average pay settlement in not-for-profit and private sector organisations is currently between 2-2.5% – significantly above the current offer from HE employers of 1%.

UNISON’s national secretary for education Jon Richards said: “The median salary of the highest-paid employee of each university in the higher education sector was over £242,000 per year. The highest-paid receive over £100,000 more than the Prime Minister.

“At the same time, some vice chancellors even dare to suggest that the terms and conditions of some of their lowest-paid employees are generous. The lowest paid, 4,000 of who earn below the living wage, do not feel they are generously rewarded for the hard work that they do.

“The take-home pay for the majority of employees is certainly not as generous as the reward packages offered to those who are the most highly paid in the sector.

“UNISON urges those employers that have resisted paying the living wage – a recognised benchmark to ensure a decent standard of living – to seek to implement this as quickly as possible. This is a real step to improving the lives of the low paid and increasing the life choices for individuals and families.”

For a number of years the unions and employers have negotiated a package of terms and conditions that attract high quality staff to the sector. UNISON sees offering fair pay, a decent pension scheme and enhancements to statutory minimums on sick pay and holiday entitlement as something that attracts high quality staff. These are not generous, but are a standard that unions feel staff should be entitled to.

But many of the lowest paid this winter will be facing the stark choice of whether to heat their home or feed their family. A 1% pay offer does little to alleviate a 10% rise in energy costs, higher travel costs or increases by the universities themselves for car park charges on campus.

Mr Richards observed that universities played a crucial role in the UK economy. They contributed directly to economic growth, employment and local economic activity, delivering skilled workers into the wider economy. In many respects, UK universities were world leaders in research and teaching.

“The employees have contributed to this success,” he said. “However, this success has not been shared with employees. While cash surpluses in universities have reached record highs over the last three years, total expenditure on staff salaries has declined.

“Our members see increasing investment in campus buildings and improvements to public spaces at universities around the UK, but don’t see the same investment in them. It’s time that they did.

“UNISON appreciates that taking the decision to vote for strike action is difficult, especially for some people who may never have participated in industrial action.

“However, employers need to know the strength of feeling of their employees about this offer, and that the decision to urge members to take part in industrial action is a last resort, as all attempts to negotiate have failed.

“The day of action needs to be widely supported to ensure that the employers come back to the negotiating table with an improved offer.”