Not content with sending just one email to all staff with misinformation regarding our strike action (read the email and our response here – 16h May 2019), Tim Jones (University of Birmingham’s Provost) appears to be using the University’s resources and time (note: he earns more than £100,000/year) rather unwisely – that is, to spread even more misinformation! We are disappointed that he has yet to forward our first response from May to all University staff – even our slightest hope in his good intentions has now vanished. Can we trust that he will change his mind and at least forward the email below to all staff? It remains to be seen.. Unfortunately we still don’t know where Tim is, as he has not attended joint negotiating meetings with us.
Below you can see our response, followed by Tim’s email in full. Please share this link widely with as many students and staff as possible.
You appear to be misinformed on a great number of things relating to our ballot. We understand how this could have happened given you have not attended any talks with us in the past.
That being said, we’re a little disappointed ourselves that you’ve sent another email to all staff before either circulating our last response to your first email or giving us even a brief response. In any case allow us to correct your misleading statements (and in one case an outright falsehood).
To take the worst of your claims in order:
- Our ballot – Your number of people participating in the ballot is both really misleading and plain false (however you measure it). Unison balloted almost 560 staff as part of the ballot and have been recruiting rapidly since then based on the amazing result. We’d also be interested to know what your own superior democratic mandate is for claiming that the “majority” of staff are happy with your repeated pay cuts?
- You are also assuming that non-UNISON members will cross the picket line, whereas from our discussions with members of other unions and non-members, as well as with students, we know that many will refuse to do so. The strike will be an excellent occasion for us to inform prospective students and parents about the way in which we have been consistently let down by the Senior Managers of this University, and to invite them to think about how the University should be run.
- You continue to misrepresent the results of national negotiations – all trade unions rejected a similar offer made by the employers association and only failed to take action because they missed the unfair 50% threshold set by the trade union act (which by the way we met, for all of your misrepresentation and dishonesty about this). More importantly – we are in local negotiations precisely because the University wants to divide us. You can’t insist on local negotiations because they suit you and then complain about the side effects (i.e. the fact that you actually have to negotiate with trade unions).
- Your “offer” – we think that you’ve probably said enough in your email to demonstrate why the University’s offers up to this point have fallen far short of what our members need (living wage accreditation, improvements to working conditions, fair pay, ending the gender pay gap, and a restructured pay spine). We’d just draw attention to your deeply concerning reference to “an open discussion about …terms and conditions“ (code for cuts to annual leave and sick pay) and the repeated refusal to make any sort of concrete offer to us as either a starting point for negotiations or an improved offer to settle 2018 (despite us being very clear about what we wanted to end the dispute).
- Dates for strike action – as you know, trade unions are required by law to notify you of the dates for potential action that they are aware of at the time. The final decision for any action rests with our members and they will be paying very close attention to whether you offer us something substantial and rule out cuts to terms and conditions.
- Outsourcing – as we’ve said before, the University outsourced close to 40 staff only last year to the Edgbaston Park Hotel and refuses to rule out doing the same thing again in future. It is again deeply misleading to make this assertion without mentioning this. We also fundamentally oppose outsourcing in higher education and have been petitioning you for weeks on this: we want all outsourced staff to be brought back in-house and to be employed directly by the University of Birmingham. Outsourcing is an ethically and politically dubious practice which should have no place in our sector.
We would like to take this opportunity to express our grave concern at your open and intentional attempts to seed mistrust and animosity among staff and students here at UoB. We are family and we are friends. To divide the community of University members and vilify union members is considerably more than ‘disappointing’.
We take our duty to the student body very seriously, hence why we are discussing our action directly with students and seeking to properly inform them about the working conditions at the University (bearing in mind many of our students work here both during and after their studies).
We feel the short term disruption caused by strike action is clearly worth it to try and get the University to change course, and to improve things in the long term.
For an example of what needs to happen, you only need to follow your own research. We’ve attached an example of a slightly modified version of one of the Birmingham heroes posters that draws attention to the excellent research going on at the University detailing the impact of poverty and what needs to be done to change it, while all support staff earn below the average wage in the UK and all staff up to the top of Band 300 fall into the official government definition of “Low income” (earning 60% of median income). Why do you let this persist when you can clearly afford to do more?
As we’ve said repeatedly though to both your actual negotiators and to you, if you come back to us with an actual offer that meets our key demands (as detailed above), we will listen and will take it to our members.
Tim Jones’ Email (sent to thousands of staff):
|24 June 2019|
|The University has been notified that a small number of staff (fewer than 250) who are members of Unison have voted to take strike action as part of a dispute over the 2018 pay settlement for support staff, which was actually paid in November 2018.|
|The dates for strike action have been confirmed as follows
· Friday 28 June (Open Day)
· Wednesday 10 – Thursday 18 July (Graduations)
· Saturday 14 September (Open Day)
· Sunday 22 September – Sunday 29 September (Welcome Week)
|We are particularly disappointed that Unison have chosen to focus strike action in a manner which is directed to undermine the experience for our students. Graduations in particular are perhaps the pinnacle of a student’s time at the University, when the University community should be coming together to celebrate the achievements of our graduating students with their friends and family.|
|We are disappointed that they have decided to take this action, particularly given that support staff were awarded (and paid) a 2% pay increase with effect from August 2018, which is exactly in line with the settlement for staff covered by national pay bargaining arrangements, where Unison has not taken industrial action. We have recognised that staff at the lower end of the pay spectrum may be disproportionately affected by increases in the cost of living which is why this year was the 10th consecutive year that our support staff pay awards have been in line with or above those negotiated nationally.|
|In addition, the University raised the bottom point of the support staff pay spine to match the voluntary Living Wage of £9.00 an hour with effect from 1 November 2018, six months in advance of many employers who link their lowest rate of pay to the calculations made by the Living Wage Foundation. This is the fourth consecutive year that the University has matched the voluntary Living Wage. Further, the University removed the bottom two points from band 300 (the second lowest grade) in order to preserve a differential from band 200 (the lowest grade).|
|We are anticipating that any impact of strike action will be manageable and are working to ensure that our operations will continue as smoothly as possible on any strike days. We are confident that the large majority of staff will be working normally to ensure that our students, prospective students and visitors are affected as little as possible by any disruption. It is a matter of regret that strike action comes as we were intending to open talks on a settlement for the pay year beginning this August. We have offered to meet with the support staff unions to discuss ways of resolving the dispute, and have made clear to them that we are prepared to put additional resources into support staff pay for the year beginning August 2019. This includes resolution of such issues as reform of the pay spine and a continuing commitment to the voluntary Living Wage, if the unions will participate in an open discussion about pay, reward and terms and conditions. Disappointingly, the unions have declined to enter into such a discussion.|
|The University is unable to open discussions about pay for the year beginning on 1 August 2019, barely a month away, while unions are taking industrial action in dispute over last year’s pay settlement.|
|We are also aware of claims regarding the outsourcing of University staff. This is simply incorrect.|
|Guidance for striking staff and line managers on industrial action is available on the intranet and includes the rules around withholding of pay and the process for recording absence due to strike action using the new Core Systems. More detailed information and instructions will be sent to support staff shortly.|
|We sincerely hope that all members of staff will recognise that Open Days and Graduations are critical for both prospective students and those who have recently completed their studies at the University, and will work as normal on the strike day.|
|With best wishes,
Professor Tim Jones