Our Response to Today’s ‘UoB Briefing’ sent by Tim Jones to all staff

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Today, the Provost of the University of Birmingham, Tim Jones, has sent an email to all staff at the University, to inform them about the dispute. Below you can see our reply (which we sent to him, the Head of HR Gillian McGrattan, and all our members), followed by his initial email. We hope Tim will forward our response to all staff on campus … 

Our email:

Dear Tim,

I’ve copied this reply to Gillian McGrattan (Director of HR) as you’ve not actually been present at any of our negotiating meetings. Do we take your involvement in this via email as an indication that you will be involved in negotiations from now on, or are support staff not important enough for you to take an interest in person?

Given that all members of staff will obviously be interested to know more about our ballot following your message, we hope we can rely upon you to circulate this response as well.

We were very surprised to see some of the claims in your letter, given the University has been aware of our demands in relation to pay and other matters for over 9 months and has failed to make any concrete commitments in relation to any of them. Just to deal with some of the specifics:

  • National HE pay claim

As you are aware, we negotiate pay locally, separately from national negotiations. We understand that the University is unwilling to review this and prefers to negotiate support staff pay separately from other Universities nationally as well as it’s own Academic and Related staff. It’s very hypocritical to rely on the national negotiations as a reason to close local pay negotiations given this. We’d also point out that all Higher Education union members where pay is negotiated nationally have been given a vote on strike action, while we have only reached this stage now because we’ve been patiently waiting for you to make concrete proposals in relation to our claim and wider demands. Would the University prefer we move faster to a strike action ballot in future?

  • Imposition of the 2% pay rise

Readers of your email may be surprised to see you describe a 2% pay rise as something to be grateful for, given its below the average pay increase and below the level of inflation. The pay rise is a real terms cut, coming after year on year of real terms pay cuts. It was imposed on us while we were still negotiating and it’s simply not good enough to compensate staff for their hard work. It might not seem that bad to you, while you and 108 other senior staff at the University earn more than £100,000 a year, but to our members, a real terms pay cut causes real hardship. The University makes multi-million pound surpluses every year and it can afford to pay more.

  • The Real Living Wage

As our members know, the University has only matched the living wage every year due to persistent and active campaigning on the part of union members. This year the University only matched the living wage from November thanks to pressure from unions in negotiations and the efforts of a local MP, Roger Godsiff, in pressing the University to live up to commitments the Vice Chancellor made in meetings. The main question the University has to answer is why doesn’t it accredit if it plans to match the Living Wage every year? Is it because it wants to keep the freedom to pay poverty wages at the Edgbaston Park Hotel now and potentially pay poverty wages at the University in the future as living costs continue to rise?

  • Gender pay gap

Our ambitious demand regarding the gender pay gap was put to the University some months ago and it is in response to the University’s complete lack of ambition in this area, while female members of staff continue to be 20% worse off than male members of staff on average. The University has made no commitment or plan to eliminate the gender pay gap, only to gradually reduce it year on year. We think this shows a complete lack of commitment to addressing inequality. We have to ask, when does the University expect to have eliminated the Gender Pay Gap? 2030? 2040? 2120?

  • Pay spine

The University’s matching of the living wage and pay increases more broadly have been applied in the cheapest way possible. You can see this by just looking at the support staff pay spine on the University website here: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/documents/staff/jobs/support-staff-pay-spine.pdf. Band 200 and 300 have lost all of their semi-automatic increments (they used to have 6 like the other bands) and the grades have been pushed closer together every year to allow the University to implement pay rises in the cheapest way possible. This means that staff on all bands have received less of a benefit for taking on greater responsibility and building up experience in their roles. When we raised this earlier this year, the University stated that you wouldn’t commit any money to doing this and you wouldn’t rule out changes to other terms and conditions being required. In the past we know that you have wanted to cut holiday, bank holiday pay and sick pay. This is completely unfair – the pay spine needs fixing to properly reward staff for experience and progression. The University can afford this without needing to cut anything else.

  • Outsourcing

You seem to have forgotten to mention in your reply that the University outsourced an entire department less than a year ago, to a wholly owned subsidiary company – the Edgbaston Park Hotel. This was done in order to pay large performance related bonuses to senior managers and to cut the pay and terms and conditions of lower paid staff. The University persistently gave us the same “reassurance” regarding outsourcing until we were formally notified about this, so you will forgive us if we are not reassured by your statement. If the University was to formally accredit as a real living wage employer, we would feel much more reassured, given that this would remove one of the main economic drivers of outsourcing. Because you already pay this to University employed staff, why won’t you accredit as a sign that all staff are going to remain University employed for the foreseeable future?

Conclusion

We don’t ask members to take strike action lightly, none of us want to lose a day’s pay or to affect services, but unfortunately your complete failure to offer anything concrete and your imposition of a real terms pay cut while negotiations were still ongoing has left us with no choice but to recommend to our members that they take strike action.

We are still prepared to talk to you (even though you say you won’t talk to us while the strike ballot is ongoing), but we need some concrete action from you on the issues we’ve raised, rather than simply polite words and veiled threats.

We have copied this to our members to start with but as stated above, we hope we can rely on you to circulate this to everyone who received your letter.

With all best wishes,

UNISON

Tim’s email:

UoB Briefing
16 May 2019
Dear colleagues,
The University has recently been advised that one of our recognised Support staff unions (Unison) is balloting its members for industrial action on pay-related issues and we would like to clarify some of the points raised.
Firstly, the Union is disputing the 2018/19 pay award of 2%, effective from last August, which has already been paid.  Although this was negotiated locally, the level of award is in line with that implemented at other universities which rely entirely on national pay bargaining.  The University notes that, nationally, none of the recognised trade unions, including Unison, received support from their membership for industrial action in pursuit of a higher claim.  All of the other unions have now agreed to regard the 2018/19 pay round as closed and have embarked on negotiations with higher education employers for the 2019/20 pay year beginning 1 August this year.  In the normal course of events we would be beginning to negotiate locally for local pay for the coming pay year.  We are therefore surprised that something which appears historic is being reopened at such a late date, meaning that the University will be unable to begin pay negotiations for 2019/20 for support staff whilst this dispute continues.
Secondly, Unison is demanding that the University becomes a Real Living Wage accredited employer.  The University already pays the Real Living Wage and, this year, made the increase effective from the date when the new level was announced (November 2018)  rather than after the grace period of up to six months afforded to accredited employers.  It should also be recognised that the University provides very generous pension contributions and holiday entitlements which, if included in this calculation, would raise the lowest rate of pay even further above the real Living Wage.
Thirdly, Unison is demanding that the gender pay gap is eliminated by 2020.  The University is taking very seriously the changes required to close the gap, which occurs because women are under-represented at the most senior levels of the University, and account for a much higher proportion of staff at the lower end of the pay scale.  We are pleased that the gap has fallen; while we have some way to go, we are moving in the right direction.  But eliminating the gender pay gap entirely by next year is mathematically impossible.
In addition, Unison is concerned that continued efforts by the University to raise the lowest rates of pay has resulted in issues within the pay spine for support staff.  We understand this concern and at our last meeting with Unison and the other support staff unions, the University was very positive about opening a discussion about this, confirming that a budget would be made available to fund changes which would modernise the deal for staff.  This offer was repeated in writing and we are waiting for a response from Unison.
Separately to the matters above, which have been referenced by Unison in relation to the ballot, the University is aware that some staff are concerned that there is an intention to move work currently being undertaken by University of Birmingham staff to a subsidiary or outsource it to a third party.  This is absolutely not the case; we informed the support staff unions at the last joint meeting that there are no such plans, and would like to assure all staff on this point.
Finally, we would ask staff to consider very carefully any decision to vote for strike action.  We remain committed to a continued dialogue to resolve these issues without the disruption and damage that industrial action brings to staff and students.
With best wishes,

Professor Tim Jones
Provost and Vice-Principal

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