Updated 26 September to take account of this update from Birmingham UCU.
At meetings on Thursday 14 September, members overwhelmingly backed the committee’s plan for strike action in the first week of term. This means that we are calling on all support staff to join us in taking strike action on:
- Thursday 21 and Friday 22 September – these are days on which just UNISON will be taking action, and they are at the end of the University “Welcome week” where new and returning students are arriving on campus at the start of the new academic year
- Wednesday 27, Thursday 28 and Friday 29 September – this action will impact on the first week of term, often one of the busiest periods in the entire academic year
Support staff keep campus clean, keep everyone safe and fed, and run essential services. These strike days will show how big our impact is when we aren’t there to hold the fort.
Why are UNISON striking?
UNISON are striking about pay reform proposals at the University. The branch has been pushing the University to fix the broken pay structure for support staff for about 5 years. Talks about these specific proposals have lasted around a year. The main reason they have become so contentious is the University’s insistence that any improvements must come at the cost of cuts to terms and conditions. The rates of pay being offered to staff are “benchmarked” to other similar employers, meaning it’s just a necessary correction to years of being underpaid. Asking staff to accept cuts to their T&Cs to get these rates of pay is deeply cynical and opportunistic.
Nature of the dispute
The dispute between the University management and UNISON became particularly bitter when University management unilaterally claimed that negotiations were over and made direct offers to staff, something UNISON has highlighted could qualify as unlawful inducement. The offer from the University:
- Contains unfair proposals on weekend pay, that treat part-time staff worse, make occasional weekend working much less attractive, and exclude all of catering staff entirely. These are unacceptable features in a system that is meant to be fair for all
- Has a definition of night work shorter than the ACAS minimum – ACAS state that “night time” should be at least 7 hours long, but the University’s proposal is only 5.5 hours, a pretty poor recognition of the impact of night work on health and work-life balance
- Contains a terms and conditions statement not discussed with the unions – the statement of terms and conditions (the document that outlines how the system works) is meant to be discussed with the trade unions (and it even contains wording to this effect). The University included a completely new version with the offer to staff though and only gave the unions sight of this 24 hours before the offer was made.
- Problems with the terms and conditions statement – unsurprisingly, this surprise revision to the statement of terms and conditions contained a number of problems, such as changing wording around working hours that stated they should be agreed between an employee and manager, to simply saying that the manager can determine the working hours on their own without discussion or agreement.
To try and pressure staff to agree, the University also said that those who would accepted before an arbitrary deadline would receive a “one off payment” (effectively a bribe), knowing full well how the lowest paid staff have struggled during the cost of living crisis. In contrast to this, any cost of living measures for higher paid staff at the University (including a 2% pay premium between August 2022 and July 2023) have been paid without strings attached.
UNISON are calling all support staff to take action – whether they have signed the new contract or not. Many staff felt under a huge amount of pressure to agree because of the short deadline for the one-off payment as well as pressure tactics from many local managers.
UNISON expects the action to have a major impact on all services provided by support staff, such as cleaning, catering, security, library services and departmental administration.
Disruption down to the University
Despite anger at the University’s actions, UNISON has not stopped trying to find a solution to the dispute and has continued to make measured and achievable suggestions on how to address the remaining problems with the offer. In contrast University management continue to refuse to engage in meaningful negotiations, and have continued to refuse to involve ACAS in settling the dispute.
We care so much about the services we provide and want nothing more than to make the University a safe, welcoming and pleasant place to study. Unfortunately if the University don’t come back to the negotiating table, disrupting the start of term is the only option left to us to make our voices heard.