Pay spine negotiations

Summary of the dispute and the offer

Extensive negotiations have taken place over changes to pay (and other matters) at the University of Birmingham over the past ten months. In February the University presented what they described as a full and final offer. 

UNISON members rejected the University’s offer and dispute negotiations took place. On Monday 22 May, the University made a slightly revised offer to support staff unions – we’ve explained the implications of this below and you can view the offer itself in Excel format. This slightly changed some of the mapping of staff on to the new grades, and the University has also made an “normal” pay offer of 6%.

UNISON members voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action as part of a ballot on the proposals. Despite this, the University made a decision to ignore the clear wishes of members and make a direct offer to staff. The offer from the University is detailed on their pay spine webpages. We’ve written a lot more about the individual offer on our strike and dispute FAQs page

Pay Reform Explained

The key elements of pay reform are:

  • Changes to rates of pay, and the structure of pay – while no-one will receive less pay in the new structure, increases to salary differ a great deal depending on where members sit on their current band. A detailed breakdown of this can be found at the bottom of the page.
  • Changes to allowances, the rates we get for working antisocial hours – controversially, the University is insisting that these changes must be agreed to as a condition of the pay changes
  • A reduction in the use of increments for performance related pay – there is, however, still a reliance on performance related pay in bands 400 and 500, with some of the specifics about this still to be negotiated
  • Plans to review other policies to bring them up to date and correct wording – these changes however are not expected to result in any changes to support staff entitlements and increases to pay are not conditional on accepting any particular changes

The University states that it has “done its utmost to ensure that the proposals presented are beneficial and fair for staff”, within the remit and budget set by the University’s council. A detailed look at the proposals can be found below.

Our posts on pay over the last few months can give more information on the progress of the talks and the decisions taken by members.

Why we are concerned

UNISON’s branch committee and the negotiators appointed by it have been trying throughout the past few months to get the best possible deal out of negotiations. As part of this we’ve highlighted numerous issues, inconsistencies and problems with the University’s proposals. While talks have been productive at times, some significant issues remain with the University’s proposals, namely that:

  • Many staff part-way up their bands are receiving smaller increases as part of the changes. The revisions are meant to be about fixing long-term unfairness in pay and yet this will leave some staff still earning much less than they should be in real terms.
  • The insistence on changing terms and conditions at the same time has massively delayed the process and now means the original target date of January 2023 is likely to be missed by at more than eight months. 
  • Changes to rates of pay for antisocial hours are problematic – they could lead to untended consequences by making these hours less attractive to volunteers, and increasing pressure on staff to work more evenings, nights and weekends. The new system also remains unfair and inconsistent with staff in catering excluded for the most part from the new rates.

These concerns led to members rejecting the University’s offer in our consultation and then confirming we should proceed to a ballot at our meetings on Thursday 11 May.

Improvements to the Offer

On 22 May the University wrote to the trade unions making the following offers:

  • A slightly improved “mapping” of people on to the new grades – they did this to ensure that anyone not at the top of their grade would receive at least a 1.8% uplift (which in some cases meant people needed to be moved to a higher point). 
  • A pay offer as part of our regular annual pay talks of 6% (slightly improved from their initial offer of 5%) 

It’s important to remember that these are two very different sets of negotiations. Our annual pay rise comes without strings attached, and if we do not agree it the University is likely to impose it eventually. Pay spine talks come attached with significant strings, principally in the form of cuts to allowances, but also the big changes we’d be agreeing to the structure of pay. 

One off payment

The University has sought to use an offer of a one off payment to put pressure on unions and staff to accept the offer. The one off payment would take the following form:

Full-time equivalent (how close to full time hours you are) Amount
0.0 – 0.299 £210
0.3 – 0.449 £315
0.45 – 0.599 £420
0.6 – 0.749 £525
0.75 – 1.0 £700

As detailed in our most recent post, we have some difficulties at the moment in relation to this – the University has very recently said the one off payment will be withdrawn unless we cancel our ballot, but it’s much too short notice for us to cancel our ballot now. Instead we’ve suggested some other options to try and keep the one off payment on the table.

We should remember though that we are talking about changes to pay that could last for years – we should not be forced into accepting them, and we need to be absolutely sure before we agree.

Proposed New Structure Explained

Each band in the new structure has three points that staff can reach without needing any performance related increments. Staff start at point 1 when joining the University and progress one point every year until they reach point three (which is the top of the band in any case for bands 200 and 300).

The University states that point three is the benchmarked “rate for the job” for that particular band. This is based on data provided by the consulting firm Korn Ferry. Because the University’s grades are also based on a system developed by Korn Ferry, they state that this means their rates of pay are comparable to those at the University (though of course you need to be on the right grade to begin with).

Under the University’s proposal, performance related pay in the new system will mostly take the form of one off payments. There are, however, two performance related increments on bands 400 and 500 – the University is proposing that these are reserved solely for sustained exceptional performance. This does of course beg the question of why this opportunity isn’t also open to staff on bands 200 and 300.

Each band is listed below though note that the rate of pay you would move to depends on your current rate of pay in the existing structure – we will be adding our own tables back to this page when we’ve had time to update them. See the changes as an excel spreadsheet in the meantime.

We have updated the figures to include the impact of a 6% pay rise in August. 

Grade 2 (new Band 200) 

Point Salary Hourly rate
1 £22,229 £11.87
2 £22,917 £12.24
3 £23,605 £12.61

Grade 3 (new Band 300)

Point Salary Hourly rate
1 £24,368 £13.01
2 £25,122 £13.42
3 £25,876 £13.82

Grade 4 (new Band 400)

Point Salary Hourly rate
1 £25,866 £13.82
2 £26,692 £14.26
3 £27,518 £14.70
4 £29,169 £15.58
5 £30,820 £16.46

Grade 5 (new Band 500)

Point Salary Hourly rate
1 £28,397 £15.17
2 £29,304 £15.65
3 £30,210 £16.14
4 £32,023 £17.11
5 £33,835 £18.07

Changes to Allowances

As detailed above – the University’s proposal is conditional on us accepting changes to allowances. These are additional payments made to staff for working antisocial hours. This is where a lot of the negatives of their proposal can be found. While the University maintains that only a “minority” of staff get enhancements at present, these additions to pay act as essential compensation for sacrificing work-life balance.

For those of us who don’t work outside of core hours they also act as essential protection – it makes it expensive to get us to work outside of our agreed working hours. These changes have the prospect of radically changing the way antisocial hours work at the University – both making them less attractive to volunteers and increasing the chance of them being made compulsory in future.

Read about the changes to allowances in detail.

Pay increases in detail – returning soon

We will be updating our own mapping tables in the next few days – in the meantime you can view the University’s proposal in Excel format.

Note the University has included three tables:

  • One summarising the changes to mapping (largely benefitting people in the middle of bands 300, 400 and 500)
  • A pay rise of at least 6% in August from our normal pay talks
  • The combined increase from both proposals – bear in mind though that we will get at least a 6% pay rise from the normal pay talks, so it is slightly misleading to present the two rises together

The other thing to bear in mind about the proposals is that they are inclusive of an increase in spinal point – so no member of current support staff will be below point of the new structure.