Higher education unions are balloting for strike action after a miserly pay offer of 1% from university employers.
In the past four years pay in the sector has been cut by 13% in real terms, and thousands of workers still receive less than the Living Wage of £7.45 an hour. This is despite a backdrop of strong financial results in the higher education sector, which has benefited from the rise in tuition fees and has a £1.1 billion operating surplus. But less of this income is going to staff: as a percentage of university budgets pay has fallen from 58% in 2001-2 to 55.5% in 2011-12.
Universities can well afford to pay a rise above inflation and UCU, Unite and Unison are all balloting for strike action on pay this autumn. Ballots for Unison and UCU are now underway and Unite follows shortly. A strong Yes vote for both strike action and action short of a strike is vital to stop this attack on our living conditions.
The last significant pay rise HE staff received was back in 2008. That was the final instalment of a three-year pay deal achieved by industrial action in 2006. But since then proper pay rises have been the preserve of a select few.
There are now over 2500 individuals working in the sector who earn more than £100,000 a year. High salaries are routinely offered as universities poach “star” researchers in an attempt to up their international rankings. Pay is becoming less equal and will stay that way unless staff put up a serious fight to get a decent rise for everyone.
The nature of university work means that action short of strikes – like the 2006 marking boycott – is often more effective than one- or two-day strikes. But the UCU leadership is insisting action can only go ahead with a yes vote for both strikes and action short – so that if gung-ho employers try to impose punitive sanctions for action short we can move straight to strikes without an additional ballot. Last year this position led to the fiasco of staff voting for action short (but not strikes) and the union calling no action at all!
It is essential that this year we get a strong yes vote on both questions – and no more excuses from the union leadership.