Birmingham University support staff vote to strike, as part of dispute over fair pay, equality, and improved working conditions
Caterers, cleaners, security guards and other support staff at the University of Birmingham have voted in favour of strike action. The first strike day is likely to be an open day for prospective students on Friday the 28th of June, unless the University addresses demands for better pay, Living Wage Accreditation, closing the gender pay gap, and meaningful negotiations on working conditions, says UNISON today (Monday).
More than three quarters of the university staff balloted (79 per cent) voted in favour to take action over last year’s dispute. UNISON, UCU and other campus unions put their demands to the University last year in a joint report which sets out a vision for improved working conditions at the University of Birmingham. The local demands in the report match those agreed at national level by all higher education unions, and were democratically written and agreed by union members.
Senior managers at the University have, however, persistently refused to negotiate with the unions and instead imposed a below inflation pay rise (2%) on the majority of staff. The University has also been sluggish to address the gulf between men and women’s salaries at the institution, with women earning on average less than 20% than their male counterparts.
After a prolonged campaign and pressure from a wide range of activists and politicians, the lowest paid University employees now earn the Real Living Wage of £9 an hour. However, the University is stubbornly refusing to apply for accreditation from the Living Wage Foundation, which would guarantee similar pay rises in future years.
In the absence of accreditation, pay at the university could fall below the Real Living Wage, meaning staff would struggle to make ends meet, having to turn to foodbanks to feed their families, says UNISON.
The union is concerned that the university won’t commit to long-term improvements in pay and conditions after senior managers cut costs by outsourcing jobs to the private sector last year. It points to support staff recently transferred to a university owned private company, The Edgbaston Park Hotel. The lowest paid workers at the Hotel only received a 1p an hour wage increase last year to take pay to the minimum wage rate of £8.21 per hour. The contracts of hotel employees are much worse than those of university employees (including a lack of contractual sick pay), and Hotel managers have refused to recognise trade unions for new staff.
Commenting on the ballot result Birmingham University UNISON branch secretary Mike Moore said: “The overwhelming result is testament to the strength of feeling on campus, and of how dismissive senior managers have been of employees’ concerns. For more than a decade the pay of university staff has been cut in real terms and inequality has widened.”
“It’s rank hypocrisy that a university where the vice chancellor David Eastwood receives a staggering £444,000 salary, a one-off incentive bonus of £80,000 and £90,000 a year as the chair of the Universities Superannuation Scheme Pensions Scheme that support staff who keep the university going have to strike just to get paid a decent wage.”
“Many low-paid staff only work 15 hours per week and often hold several jobs to make ends meet. Senior managers seem happy to promote the excellent research undertaken by academics on social inequalities but are failing to see that they are often driving this inequality through the way they treat their own employees.”
The University and College Union branch at the University has consistently supported UNISON’s campaign. Branch President James Brackley said: “We want to express our full solidarity with UNISON members and note that many of the issues such as casualisation, precarity and the gender pay gap affect all staff at the University. We urge the University to use their strong financial position to fully accredit as a Living Wage employer and to address the legitimate concerns raised by support staff.”
Notes to editors:
- In 2018 most staff received a 2% increase while the retail price index (RPI) was at 2.8% meaning staff faced a real-terms pay cut. Since 2013 the salaries of most staff have dropped in real terms by close to 6% when compared with the RPI measure of inflation.
- The university has refused to become an accredited living wage employer, has not committed to the elimination of the gender pay gap and outsourced close to 40 staff to a wholly owned subsidiary company.
- 109 senior managers at the university are paid more than £100,000 a year.
- Support staff at the university have been trying to improve their pay and working conditions since 2012, when they held their first day of strike action in 30 years.
- The joint unions report was submitted to the University in November 2018 – to read the demands, please visit this page:uobunison.org.uk/
demands2018 (the pdf version of the report is hyperlinked on the page)
- To follow the news about the dispute and campaign, please visit uobunison.org.uk
- The two-minute campaign video can be accessed here: https://youtu.be/OkBwC2-
Link to our Strike Ballot announcement (similar to this release): https://uobunison.org.uk/strike-uob