What is going on with pay reform at the University?
Staff at the University of Birmingham will have seen the news that union members have rejected the University’s latest offer on support staff pay reform. There is a lot of misinformation about why this decision was made and where the responsibility lies if the negotiations are unsuccesful.
The offer made was unfair to established staff, excluded entire departments and aimed to force members to accept changes to terms and conditions. Negotiators were also not allowed to consult anyone until the end of the process – at the insistence of the University proposals remained confidential.
There are some key facts that all staff at the University should be aware of, and member or not you are welcome to contact us to ask for more information. We’ve listed some of the key points below but we’d also like to invite all staff to a meeting to hear from us, ask questions and express your concerns:
Thursday 27 April at 12pm
Arts Lecture Theatre 1
(Zoom link also available – contact us for details)
Rejection was a clear and unambiguous democratic decision
Well over 60% of UNISON members voted in our consultation with almost 82% of those voting electing to reject the University’s proposals. This is one of the best ever turnouts in a consultation, and it came on a very short timescale. This shows how seriously members feel about the proposals, and it means we could make a strong case for a formal ballot for strike action if improvements are not made.
Why did union members vote to reject?
Concerns raised by staff during the consultation included:
- Changes to pay were conditional on accepting changes to terms and conditions at the same time, including cuts to rates for working unsocial hours. The University said that these changes were not necessary on financial grounds, but insisted on the two processes being linked anyway.
Despite claims that the new system made things fair for all, staff in catering remain excluded from most additions to pay, cementing a two tier workforce at the University, where some groups of staff don’t get the same benefits as others
- Pay increases are unfair with changes only having a marginal impact for some staff on particular points. The University states that this is because they may be earning close to the “rate for the job” already, but we feel everyone’s pay has fallen far behind where it should be, and we should not have to agree to cuts to T&Cs to fix this
- Staff had very little time to read and understand the implications of the proposals before the University insisted on a yes or no vote. Many staff who will be most severely impacted by the changes only received detailed calculations several weeks into the consultation period. The unions also have some outstanding requests for data to fully understand the equality and financial implications of the changes for everyone.
UNISON asked the University to keep negotiating rather than moving straight to a yes or no vote. University management said no to this even though we said that rejection was the likely outcome.
What does rejection mean
Rejection does not mean we are saying that we don’t want a pay rise. It just means that the current offer is not good enough. It isn’t good for established staff, for those who are excluded or for those who subsidise their income with overtime, and as union members we stand together.
We are committed to the dispute resolution process and we hope that the University will come to it ready to compromise. We’ve given them some clear examples of actions they can take to improve the proposals, including improving the mapping, dealing with changes to enhancements separately and / or making some improvements to the rates offered for unsocial hours.
Changes are negotiated via the trade unions, this is how things have always worked at the University, and because of this we have better pay and conditions than non-union employers. We do still want to hear from all staff though, and you can always join us to have your views represented and participate.
It’s also important to remember that this is not the only chance we have this year for a pay rise. We also have separate pay negotiations with the University to determine our annual cost of living related rise. Given that inflation is likely to be well above 10% in both 2022 and 2023 it’s vital we get a proper pay rise
What happens to the one off payment?
The University has stated that the one off payment they offered was conditional on their offer being recommended by the unions to their members and accepted. They have not yet confirmed that this offer has been withdrawn, and we feel that doing so would undermine the dispute resolution process (which after all should be aimed at getting an offer we can recommend to our members).
UNISON has previously asked for one-off payments to be made in recognition of the cost of living crisis (i.e. without any conditions attached). The extra money they’ve paid to grade 6 and above staff throughout this year was also paid despite the rejection of the pay deal by UCU. So withdrawing this one off payment now when they have the money ready to give to staff would be deeply unfair in our view. We think a one off payment should be made separately to the pay spine talks, in light of the massive cost of living crisis. Any compensation for the delay in pay spine talks should take the form of backdated salary.
Future of pay at the University of Birmingham
As we say above, it’s clear that staff at the University are paid too little, and that this needs to change very quickly. Staff are struggling to meet ever increasing bills, with each week’s news bringing another price rise whether this is energy prices, food prices or council tax. The University is struggling to recruit and retain staff, with us all seeing the impact of this in our areas.
In our pay claim we highlighted that inflation from just 2013 – 2022 has led to a 14% cut in wages in real terms, with another big rise in inflation due in 2023. This is why we felt our pay claim for a 15% increase in pay for everyone is justified.
At the same time the University’s finances have remained very healthy. After correcting some assumptions about the University’s pension commitments we estimate that the University made a surplus of over £50 million last year and there are reports of another very healthy surplus coming in 2023.
Of course the University uses its surplus for investment – all we are saying is that they should invest in staff as well as buildings. There’s a real question about why support staff are being asked to make trade offs and accept something so flawed, when the University has the capacity to do so much more?