Press Release – End of the 18-19 Dispute and Plans for the Future

Monday 25th November

For immediate release

Following a protracted campaign involving six days of strike action on key dates including graduation and open days, UNISON members at the University of Birmingham have voted to accept an improved offer from the University and bring their dispute to a close. The offer equates to 4.85% for band 200 workers such as cleaning and catering staff (who will now be paid a minimum of £9.44 an hour), while staff on higher bands (including security guards, administrators, supervisors and library assistants)  will receive a rise of between 4.73% and 3%. 

The dispute originated from the breakdown of negotiations in Autumn 2018 regarding that year’s pay rise and other related conditions and equality matters. Members voted 78.6% in favour of strike action on a 51.3% turnout after the University imposed a below RPI inflation pay increase of 2% and failed to engage in talks around Living Wage accreditation and the elimination of the gender pay gap. Over the summer, members rejected offers of a 1% one-off payment and a flat 3% increase to all spinal points. Further strike action in the autumn and in-depth negotiations mediated by ACAS resulted in the University’s offer to pay an improved percentage for the 2019/20 pay settlement, exceeding the current national Higher Education pay offer by 1.2% for every spinal point.

Birmingham University UNISON branch secretary Mike Moore welcomed the percentage rise for the lowest paid, stating “strike action is always a last resort for any trade union, but we were tired of seeing our members pay cut in real terms every year at an employer that makes multi-million pound surpluses every year. The determination and persistence of our members brought the University back to the negotiating table and we have been utterly blown away by the support and sense of community this campaign has shown both within the branch and beyond.”

The vote to end the dispute was difficult for many members, who highlighted the lower percentage rise for higher bands (all support staff at the University earn less than the average UK wage) and the lack of a firm commitment to Living Wage accreditation. The branch are calling on the University to address these issues in follow-up negotiations, with other key priorities being restructuring the pay spine to address issues with pay progression and benchmarking, a commitment to eliminate the University’s gender pay gap (which is currently 20%) and to bring all outsourced Edgbaston Park Hotel staff (a University owned subsidiary company) in-house, on the same pay and terms and conditions as everyone else on campus.        

Ioana Cerasella Chis, Membership Officer for the branch, highlighted this last point, stating ‘one of the other commitments the University has made is to recommend to its outsourced subsidiary company, The Edgbaston Park Hotel, to match the Living Wage rate for its staff – a decision that will be made in late November. While this particular dispute has ended, this is only the beginning of our assiduous campaigning for equality, better pay, improved working conditions, and the end of outsourcing on our campus. The enormous effort put into this campaign by members, supporters and the committee have massively increased the strength of the branch. Strikes work! If you’re not in a union, join one now and get actively involved’.

Notes to editors:

  • One of the most notable events during this year’s campaign has been the release of a letter addressing the Vice Chancellor David Eastwood, written by a low paid member of staff who challenged senior managers to live on a low pay salary for a month. Signed by hundreds of students, staff and other supporters, the letter was delivered to the Vice Chancellor’s office, but no reply has been received. The text and video of the letter can be found here: uobunison.org.uk/challenge
  • Two letters to Vice Chancellor have been sent by seven Birmingham MPs (Preet Gill, Jack Dromey, Liam Byrne, Jess Phillips, Steve McCabe, Richard Burden and Roger Godsiff) – both letters argue for the University to immediately become a Living Wage employer.  https://uobunison.org.uk/mps-letter & https://uobunison.org.uk/mps-letter2
  • During the dispute, many employees and student workers experienced serious problems with their pay due to the introduction of a new HR and Finance system, with hundreds waiting months to receive payment for work. Student workers wrote an open letter to the University regarding the problems with the University’s payroll and in support of UNISON’s dispute. This letter received over 2,000 signatures from affected student workers and supporters. It can be found at https://uobunison.org.uk/students-letterLink to the BBC West Midlands’ story; link to ERP Today story.
  • Support staff at the University of Birmingham negotiate their pay and other matters directly with the University through UNISON, UNITE and GMB, while academics and higher banded administrative staff fall under the national negotiations between UCU and UCEA. Other Universities undertake national negotiations for all grades of staff and national negotiations for support staff form a point of comparison with the local negotiations at the University. 
  • National negotiations for the 2019/20 pay settlement remain in dispute, and UCU members at 60 Universities (including Birmingham) are due to take eight days of consecutive action from the 25th November. UNISON and UCU have worked closely together throughout UNISON’s dispute.
  • Alongside the ongoing dispute over pay, equality and working conditions, the UNISON branch at the University of Birmingham are campaigning to Boycott the University’s Wholly Owned subsidiary company called The Edgbaston Park Hotel until and unless the University brings all outsourced workers in-house. Read/sign the pledge here: boycotteph.org.uk 
  • Dozens of videos from this year’s pickets and rallies can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k91FC6iw7e4&list=PLPbpPRNAGza2EGOdB50_LT_Il4PDY36NK


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