UNISON members at the University of Birmingham to take strike action for fair pay, equality, and improved working conditions

UNISON members at the University of Birmingham to take strike action for fair pay, equality, and improved working conditions

  • UNISON members at the University of Birmingham vote to take strike action over 2018-19 negotiations on pay, equality and working conditions.
  • 51.3% of support staff members took part in the ballot, with 78.6% voting in favour of strike action.
  • The result means that University of Birmingham UNISON will become the only branch in UK higher education to take strike action over the real terms pay cut imposed by university management.

UNISON members at the University of Birmingham have voted to take strike action over 2018-2019 negotiations around fair pay, equality, and working conditions. The vote, based on a turnout of 51.3% of support staff members, resulted in over 78.6% voting in favour of strike action. No other UK Higher Education branch has taken strike action as a result of the pay and working conditions dispute for 2018-2019, and many unions have highlighted that the Trade Union Act’s 50% threshold has been imposed specifically to prevent the likelihood of industrial action.

A spokesperson for Birmingham University UNISON branch stated: ‘This result is a testament to the strength of feeling on campus, and a symptom of how dismissive the University Senior Management have been of staff’s concerns. For over a decade, our members’ pay has been cut in real terms, and inequality (both in terms of pay and working conditions) has considerably widened.’

While constant staff campaigning has kept the lowest rate of pay at the University above the real living wage rate this year, outsourced Edgbaston Park Hotel employees only received a 1p per hour pay rise to take their pay to the minimum wage rate of £8.21 per hour.

The spokesperson continued: ‘Senior Management have consistently failed to treat staff fairly. Their priorities rest in outsourcing, casualisation, refusing to seek Living Wage Accreditation, setting up a campus in Dubai with no consultation with unions. They have invested millions of pounds into building student accommodation and re-landscaping the campus, while refusing to employ an additional 21 desperately needed full-time accredited counsellors to support students on campus. We question VC David Eastwood’s intentions for our university, and have very little confidence in his ability to be a leader of this institution or the higher education sector more widely.’

‘Whenever University pay drops below the Real Living Wage, our members really struggle. Many are only working 15 hours per week and often hold 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet. We know some members rely on foodbanks and struggle with their bills. Meanwhile, Vice Chancellor David Eastwood is awaiting a £80,000 one-off bonus that was set when he was sitting on his own remuneration committee, is paid £444,000/year, and also received £90,000 as Chair of the USS pension scheme. The University Senior Management are happy to promote the excellent research undertaken by academics on social inequalities, but are often driving this inequality through the way they treat their own colleagues’.

The University of Birmingham UCU branch have consistently supported the campaign. A spokesperson for BUCU states: ‘As a trade union we want to express our full support and 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 in the strongest possible terms to use their strong financial position to fully accredit as a Living Wage employer, to address the legitimate concerns raised by support staff, and to start meaningful negotiations with the campus trade unions.’

Further information about the dispute can be found at: uobunison.org.uk/dispute

  • In 2018 most staff were only paid a cursory 2% offer, constituting another pay cut with RPI inflation running at 2.8%. Since 2013 the salaries of most staff have dropped in real terms by close to 6% when compared with RPI inflation. At the same time the University has persistently 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 in order to maximise profits and management bonuses for a new Hotel.
  • The University makes multi-million pounds in surpluses, and 109 senior managers are paid more than £100,000/year, with Vice Chancellor David Eastwood receiving a staggering £444,000. He is also expected to receive a one-off incentive bonus of £80,000 which was set when he was part of his own remuneration committee. Eastwood is also Chair of the USS Pensions Scheme (for which he receives £90,000/year) and has come under fire for his poor decisions during the pensions dispute with UCU. His mismanagement has devastating repercussions for staff and students in higher education’.
  • Staff at the University have been persistently trying to improve terms and conditions at the University since 2012, when they held their first day of strike action in 30 years. It has been a constant battle for staff to resist attacks on their terms and conditions and the constant erosion of their pay since then. News articles about the 2012 strike predict around 140 staff taking action, while for this coming dispute the union is expected to call approximately 600 staff to take action, and to call on several thousand staff to refuse to cross the picket line.

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