‘You do fabulous work; you deserve decent pay’

Assistant general secretary Christina McAnea praises members and activists as she opens higher education conference

Christina McAnea speaking to higher education conference

“You do fabulous work: it’s you who are often the first point of contact for students,” assistant general secretary Christina McAnea told UNISON’s higher education members when she addressed their national conference in Nottingham this morning.

“You do tremendous jobs,” she added. “But you don’t get recognition for the jobs you do and don’t get they pay you deserve for the jobs you do.”

Yet she pointed out that, in many universities, senior managers are getting astronomical salaries.

Ms McAnea noted that the country’s highest-paid university vice chancellor – in Bath – had stepped down last autumn.

But many vice-chancellors are still receiving wages of £400,000 a year or more.

“We’re a union that believes people should be paid the right rate for the job they do,” she added. “But seriously: what do vice chancellors do that’s worth £400,000 a year in a sector where money is tight and increasing numbers of staff are on temporary or non-permanent contracts?

“Why, when universities are reminded that money is tight, do they not look at these high salaries, but instead ask ‘What about our staff pensions? Can we claw back some money there? Or can we outsource staff?’?” she asked.

But Ms McAnea noted that there had been successful campaigns by branches to fight cuts – including at Bradford University, which took four days of strike action to defeat plans for 250 redundancies, and Leicester University, where a ballot of security staff delivered a 100% vote for action in a 100% turnout with 100% density and saw off an attack on their pay.

“These show that we as a union are not afraid to take action – but we need to learn the lessons and replicate that on a wider scale.”

She told delegates that higher education “punches above its weight” in UNISON – the largest union in the country.

But being the largest union came with its burdens. “We need to recruit 160,000 new members every year just to stand still,” Ms McAnea told conference.

“And we do that because of the work you do. When you’re representing and organising members, you’re out there every day demonstrating what UNISON does and what it stands for.”