Use your vote and take action, HE members urged

“Use your vote and take action over pay,” is the message to UNISON higher education member as the current ballot for strike action enters its final week.

The ballot, which follows a 1% pay offer from employers, ends on 8 October.

UNISON head of higher education Donna Rowe-Merriman says: “Four years of pay restraint has seen a real terms fall of almost 15% for most support staff in higher education.

“A series of below-inflation pay awards has eroded living standards for staff. UNISON believes this year’s 1% offer is inadequate and that it is time to take action for fair pay.

“Higher education has a far greater gender pay gap than the rest of the public sector, yet the employers have taken very little positive action to address the problem since 2000,” adds Ms Rowe-Merriman.

And while support staff have suffered pay restraint, the union says that has not been the case for everyone. The number of staff in the sector paid more than £100,000 has increased substantially since 2009 and the average pay of a vice chancellor is now more than £242,000 – at a time when the proportion of university spending going on salaries is falling.

Meanwhile, “more than 4,000 staff are paid below the living wage. Employees in higher education want to live – not just exist.

“We are fighting for a living wage for all higher education, one staff that gives a reasonable standard of living to the lowest paid workers,” says Ms Rowe Merriman.

But pay is not the only issue making life difficult for higher education workers.

Zero hours contracts are becoming more common in the sector, with more than half of universities are using them, and the number of staff affected is growing.

And “universities are making record surpluses – more than £2bn in the last two years,” notes Ms Rowe-Merriman.

“Student numbers are healthy and the increase in student fees income has more than offset cuts in government grants. Student numbers have held up despite the employers’ pessimistic forecasts.”

A UNISON pay survey this year showed that job security is a key priority for members and Ms Rowe-Merriman says the union “wants ant an agreement to avoid redundancies and, if they can’t be avpoded, to ensure fair treatment. Staff in HE have been subject to ongoing reviews for years and are entitled to job security.”

And “staff need a reasonable work-life balance, but have seen their workloads increase”, she says.

Around 30% of staff work more than 50 hours a week. and “we want employers to start taking positive action to address the concerns of staff and excessive workloads.

“Doing nothing is not an option.

“Unless members stand up now and fight for a decent pay rise, the situation will not change. In fact, it may give a signal to employers that they can undermine other terms and conditions in the future that will have further impacts on members’ income and their living standards.

“There is a real need to address the loss of income for members – enough is enough.

“The higher education employers will continue to make below inflation offers if they believe that members will accept whatever they offer and will do nothing to address union concerns on issues such as equalities, workload and job security.

“The pay claim is affordable,” concludes Ms Rowe-Merriman. “Pease use your vote and take action. The money is there and members are worth it!”

UNISON’s ballot helpline for members who may have lost their ballot paper, or not received a paper, is 0845 355 0845 and is open until 4 October 2013.


Key issue: Higher education pay ballot

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