HE employers announce 2020 pay freeze proposal

UNISON and the joint higher education trade unions have expressed say they’re “extremely disappointed” at a proposal to freeze pay for higher education support staff

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) has released a statement to the joint higher education trade unions that announces a pay freeze for 2020/2021.

The exception to this is adjustments needed to meet statutory National Living Wage levels.

UNISON, alongside joint higher education trade unions EIS, GMB, UCU and Unite, has said that it is “extremely disappointed”.

UNISON head of higher education Ruth Levin said: “This proposal is clearly a huge disappointment. Higher education support staff have worked so hard over the past few months to support students and colleagues to keep universities going.

“With the real-term value of pay having fallen over the past 10 years, due to insufficient pay rises, it’s about time universities provided a decent pay rise to their staff.”

And Ms Levin continued: “We know that universities are facing uncertainty at the moment – but the one certainty is that they need their excellent workforce more than ever before.

“Universities will play a vital role in getting this country through the pandemic, in rebuilding the economy and in providing opportunity to the increasing numbers of eighteen year olds, and others, in coming years.”

A statement from the employers says that: “In view of the likely forthcoming pressures facing the sector, UCEA now believes it would be unwise for there to be a pay uplift for the 2020-21 round.

“We recognise that this will be disappointing for you and your members. I must stress that the conclusion that there should not be a pay uplift this year has not been arrived at lightly by our members.”

The statement also says that the consultation with higher education employers demonstrates the “significant extent” of the financial challenges universities and colleges are facing.

UCEA emphasises its ongoing commitment to national collective bargaining, and an intention to “recommence negotiations in 2021-22, subject to that being possible at that time.”

The joint trade unions, in response to the UCEA position, are calling for the following:

  • consideration to be given to increasing pay by at least inflation, in order to ensure that staff don’t suffer a pay cut from 1 August 2020;
  • consideration to be given to providing increases to address compression at the lower end of the pay spine, along with increases in pay on the lowest spinal column points in order to meet the national living wage (and the Living Wage Foundation rates, where that is followed);
  • a national higher education job security commitment;
  • a commitment to the new new joint negotiating committee for higher education staff (new JNCHES) national bargaining structures for 2021/22, and future years, with higher education institutions signalling clear commitment to this process;
  • a new JNCHES pay negotiation meeting to be held before mid-July 2020;
  • for the new JNCHES autumn meeting to be convened as a higher education pay and finances review meeting;
  • for discussion to continue on the equality and pay-related elements of the joint unions’ claim, including (but not limited to) tackling the gender and ethnic pay gap, casualisation of the workforce, workloads and the Scottish JNCHES sub-committee.

The UNISON higher education service group executive is meeting on 23 June to consider this situation. Any updates or developments will be sent to branches.