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Strike ballot result – you voted yes!

We announced the result of our ballot on pay spine changes earlier this week. On an impressive 54.99% turnout, the yes vote to strike action was 89.63%.

UK law around strike action is designed to make it as difficult as possible to get a result, by insisiting on a minimum turnout of 50% and that all votes have to be made by post. Achieving such a clear result is a sign of how seriously staff feel about this. 

It’s a clear message that things need to change – University management need to improve their offer.

Issues with the University’s offer

The offer was rejected originally by UNISON members after a consultation back in April. The crux of our concerns was that the University is asking for detrimental changes to terms and conditions to be accepted just to get the rates of pay they said we should be receiving anyway. These include:

  • Reduced rates of pay for weekend work
  • Less of an incentive for other types of antisocial working such as shift work
  • Accepting the exclusion of entire departments from most enhancements to pay – catering staff, for example, would continue to receive no additional pay for weekend or antisocial working under the new system

Members were concerned that these changes could be a “slippery slope”, with the reduced rates of pay allowing the University to push staff to work more unsocial hours in the future, as they’ve done recently in departments such as cleaning and catering. 

On top of this, the offer on pay itself had some real flaws, with longer serving staff in particular facing a significant real terms pay cut this year, all to see their terms and conditions slashed.

The University made some small improvements on this in a final offer just before UNISON’s ballot opened, but offered it to the unions in a way that made it impossible for us to consult members – they made the offer just as ballot papers were being posted out but said that we couldn’t recommend it to members while balloting, making it impossible for a proper response to be made to it.

University’s response to the ballot result

On hearing the outcome of our ballot – that the overwhelming majority of members were unhappy with the offer – University management moved to act against the clear wishes of staff by unilaterally claiming that negotiations are over. In an highly divisive step at an employer where all terms and conditions are negotiated collectively, they then moved to offer the deal to members on an individual basis.

While this may not seem that bad at first glance to some, it undermines both the principles of collectivism that unions rely on and the community ethos of the University. It also takes advantage of the hardship staff have faced from unprecedented rates of inflation and places unfair pressure on each individual member of staff to rush to accept a poor offer, including irreversible changes to terms and conditions. All just in order to get the rates of pay they should be getting anyway. 

The response was a shock to the committee who have invested months in good faith in negotiations, including responding promptly with suggestions and feedback from members. We were assured earlier in the process that this reform could only be implemented via union negotiations.  

Why all staff should reject the offer

We appreciate that the University’s offer may seem very tempting to many staff and note that the University is heavily emphasising that the offer is voluntary for every individual. We would still recommend that no member of staff accept the University’s offer. This is because:

  • The more staff accept the offer, the more the University will take this as a signal that it is acceptable in and of itself, and they don’t need to make any concessions. If we stay strong it increases the pressure on them to fix the problems with T&Cs and enhancements
  • Their individual offer sets a very dangerous precedent – in the past all changes have been made via negotiation and collective agreements. This will show the University that if they don’t like a particular element of the T&Cs they just have to make a show of consulting for a few months and then they can try and get people to accept the change one by one in return for a financial reward – what if they decided to try it with annual leave, for example, or sickness absence
  • Despite us highlighting again and again that any one off payment should be made to staff without strings attached to help them cope with cost of living pressures, they are again attempting to use a one off payment to put pressure on struggling staff to accept the offer quickly. Aside from this there is no reason whatsoever to rush to accept the University’s offer. Is a few hundred pounds really enough of a price for your terms and conditions? 
  • Finally – UNISON is taking urgent legal advice on this situation and there is a possibility the University’s attempt to do this is unlawful. We would definitely advise all members to await this before making any decision at all. 

We are going to be publishing FAQs in the next few days to bring together this advice as well as all of the other questions we are getting from members.

What happens next? 

We are going to be taking soundings from members over the next few days on the best time to take strike action in response to the University’s flagrant disregard of our views and the need to find a solution through negotiation.

At the same time as we are urging them to correct the misleading statements they have made and to come back to the table to find a solution with us. 

Everyone reading this update can do a few things to help us get a better deal for all staff:

  1. Share this update widely, particularly to your colleagues at the University
  2. Send us your thoughts and questions – the easiest way to do this is to email our branch mailbox unisonbham@contacts.bham.ac.uk
  3. If you aren’t a member already join! This will give us a stronger voice and will make it more likely we will find a fair and negotiated solution to this impasse. If you would like to join by payroll deduction instead drop us an email on the above address and we can take you through the process. 

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