As you will no doubt have seen, the UCU Higher Education Committee has announced strike action for 25-26 May, as part of the current pay campaign. It also marks the start of working to contract.
This is after negotiations with the University and College Employers’ Association stalled, and members were balloted on both strike action and action short of a strike. Strike action was passed with 65.4% of the vote.
Strike action is always a last resort, and never taken lightly. Unfortunately, the Employers’ increased pay offer, from 1% to 1.1%, fell well short of the claim UCU had submitted, of 5%. It also falls short of the reported 3% pay increase that vice-chancellors and principals have enjoyed this year.
The headline figure of 5% may well seem rather high; however, it is part of a broader strategy to recoup some of the 14.5% real terms pay decrease the sector has experienced since 2009, due to sub-inflationary pay settlements since then. At a time when the HE sector is running a £1.85bn surplus, it seems only fair to recompense employees for their restraint on pay claims going seven years.
We should also recognise that whilst living costs in Norwich are comparatively low, UCU is bargaining at a national level, and people elsewhere in the country have been hit by a housing crisis that increases the cost of living well beyond the headline figures for inflation (CPI or RPI). Furthermore, any additional money we earn will go back into the local economy: if UEA, as a major employer in the region, takes leadership on this issue, the economic benefits will be felt throughout the community.
In his letter to staff, the Vice-Chancellor flags up individual points on the salary spine where staff will obtain pay increases over 1.1%. What UCU is attempting to secure is a good deal for all colleagues. Similarly, the VC notes incremental pay scales and discretionary awards, but incremental pay rises are not received by a substantial proportion of staff, whilst discretionary awards are, of course, discretionary, and as such hardly the basis for a national pay settlement. The VC also addresses the question of global competition and the student experience. We agree that this pay campaign is about Britain’s competitiveness in a global market: how can British Universities continue to attract the best academics from across the globe, and therefore provide the best education for our students, and the best reputation for our institutions, if continually eroding the pay and conditions of the profession nationally?
We strongly encourage all colleagues to participate in the action, and to stand in solidarity with those colleagues across the country for whom a 1.1% pay increase would simply exacerbate the cost of living crisis they have been subjected to since 2009. We will be organising picket lines, and will be delighted to have you join us.
We should also like to remind you that you are not obliged to tell your line manager that you are participating in strike action until after the action has started, and only if asked.
We too regret the fact that this strike action is going ahead, but if this is what is needed to obtain an adequate pay offer for our members, then we will have no choice but to take part in it, and hope that it brings about an equitable settlement as soon as possible.