Angela Rayner speaking at UNISON conference
The hard work and dedication of staff are key to higher education, but those same workers face falling pay, rising workloads and increasingly insecure employment, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner says in a message to UNISON workers who are currently voting on industrial action to win better pay.
She called for a return to unconditional talks, with help from ACAS if necessary, for as long as it takes to reach an agreement.
University support staff who are members of UNISON are currently voting in a nationwide industrial action ballot, which ends on 30 October (or 5 November in Northern Ireland). UNISON is urging all members in higher education to vote and make their voice heard in the next two weeks.
In an earlier consultation, members rejected an employers’ offer that would see most staff get a pay rise of just 1.8%, in response to a claim for an increase of 3% or £3,349, whichever was higher.
Ms Rayner’s message said: “The success of our higher education sector is built on the hard work and dedication of thousands of staff. Ensuring that we can continue to attract talented people to work in our universities and deliver education for the public good is crucially important.
“I am deeply concerned that a combination of falling pay, rising workloads and increasingly insecure employment is making a career in higher education less sustainable.
‘“All staff in our universities deserve fair pay, a secure contract, a sensible workload, opportunities for professional development and a decent, affordable pension. I fully support UNISON members in their fight to defend pay and pensions for the future.”
“On top of this, recent changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) risk pricing some university support staff, as well as teaching staff, out of their pension provision altogether.
“All staff in our universities deserve fair pay, a secure contract, a sensible workload, opportunities for professional development and a decent, affordable pension. I fully support UNISON members in their fight to defend pay and pensions for the future, but I also know that students and parents will want to see the current disputes resolved as soon as possible and avoid unnecessary disruption.
“I am therefore calling on both sides to urgently return to unconditional talks, assisted by ACAS as appropriate, and negotiate for as long as it takes to agree a way forward.
“In building the National Education Service, Labour will put investment in education staff at the heart of our plans: I urge the employers and USS to do the same by working with trade unions to find a sensible solution which addresses these important issues.”
Ms Rayner sent a similar message to teaching staff union UCU, which is also balloting members on industrial action.
University employers body the UCEA released a report in September which showed how much university staff’s pay has fallen in the last year.
The report, by Andrew Eyles of the LSE Centre for Economic Performance, said that pay has fallen over the past decade, but been largely flat over the last five years.
However, analysis of the report by UNISON’s bargaining support unit shows that most staff – if they are on pay point 21 and above – have seen their pay fall by 17% since 2009-10, when compared to the retail price index (RPI), which is “the most accurate indicator of the cost of living”. That includes a more than 5% fall since 2013-14.
It is only when using the widely quoted, but less accurate, CPIH measure of inflation that pay has been flat since 2013 – and fallen by 8% over the last 10 years.