Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Guest Speaker Tomosa Bullen on Pay Dispute: September 2016

Pay Dispute: September 2016

Tomosa Bullen’s Pay Speech



Following a consultative ballot, the result was to reject and move to a formal industrial action ballot. UNITE and EIS are also balloting. UCU have already taken two days of strike action and are awaiting the outcome of the on-going ballots before announcing what they will do next. Their executive has already discussed further strike action and action short of strike which would include a boycott of setting work.

The Trade Unions met with the employers’ organisation UCEA 3 times during March and April. The employers originally offered 1% on all spinal points above point 7 with a higher increase for those on point 7 or below ranging from 1.6 to 3.1%. After two dispute meetings the 1% offer was raised to 1.1%. It is shameful that many staff working in HE on grades 1-6 still earn less than the foundation living wage.

The fact that UCEA have advised Universities to implement the pay award whilst we are still balloting is viewed by UNISON as extremely provocative by UNISON, who has written to them with those views, is an attempt at “divide and rule” and an attempt to influence the ballot. UNISON has produced a standard form of words for those universities who impose the offer. 

Can universities afford a decent pay rise? Of course they can. Universities have put £21bn into reserves and have increased management posts. The average V-C’s pay award last year was 6.1% with the average V-C pay now £274k excluding perks. Oxford Brookes financial statements show a reduction in staff costs during 2015. The mission statement refers to investment in students and buildings but a reduction in staff costs – so you are a cost. In reality, the biggest investment any employer can make is in its staff. Students come and go, buildings begin to deteriorate as soon as they are complete but staff stay and develop the organisation. You are deserving of investment in pay, terms and conditions and training. Surveys show that students remember their cleaner who cleans their room, the caterer who gives them a few more chips and the admin help, not their building. It is you who provide the student experience that senior management continually talk about but expect you to continue to deliver the excellent service you do whilst struggling to make ends meet. 

There hasn’t been any strike action by support staff for 2/3 years. Before that event, the employers were talking about performance related pay, removing the incremental pay grades, removing sick pay for the first three days and that we had too much holiday. After the strike, which resulted in a face saving 2% pay rise over 18 months, all of those were off the table and we were back talking about pay. However, recently, these things have resurfaced and we need to tell the employer that we are prepared to stick together to defend our terms and conditions and that we are not daft. We can see the huge amounts of money going into HE and we are not prepared to accept poverty pay and a miserly pay offer. We need to state clearly that we will not accept any attacks on our terms and conditions. We are part of the investment that the employers should be making. The return on their investment in us far outstrips and return they will get from buildings or students. 

The £9k fee and its possible annual increase under the Higher Education Bill and TEF has not reduced applications. Universities charge for everything which is why their reserves have increased so dramatically whilst the amount spent on staff has fallen by 3%. V-Cs chose to reward themselves and appoint numerous senior managers’ with over 5000 employees now earning over £100k. At the same time an FOI request by UNISON showed that £200m was spent on agency workers last year with a 45 universities spending over £1m. This is poor planning and is another example of highly paid staff being rewarded for failure.

The only way to bring the employers back to the negotiating table is to vote to reject the offer and take strike action. It is time to redress the balance and get investment put into us – it is no more than we deserve.

Questions from the first meeting
Public Sector pay
Pay in the public sector, which is usually seen as local government and health services has either been frozen or fixed at 1%. However, it has always been ambiguous as to whether HE is in the public or private sector – it was always dependent upon political expediency. It is more arguable now than ever that we are in the private sector as the funding goes to the student to spend where they wish and not to the HE provider. Funds have continued to pour into universities whether through fees, accommodation charges, research grants, consultancy, catering, photocopying etc. There is more than enough money in HE for it to be spent on buildings which are great for winning architectural awards but are not user friendly. That investment has largely been completed, yet the money still rolls in. It is time for the money to be spent on us.

Brexit
We are still in the EU and will be for some time. The UK already received research grants from foundations outside of the EU and this will continue. The government has stated that it will match funds up to 2020 and then other arrangements will have bene put in place. The UK has an international reputation for research and talk about losing such funds is scare mongering.
Staff recruitment and retention
HEIs, especially in the South and South-East are beginning to find difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff as the higher wages offered in the private sector companies based in London have lured staff away. This is currently most noticeable in IT but it is beginning to be felt in other sectors. It is only 55 minutes from Oxford to London, 1hr 10 minutes from Southampton. Private sector pay has begun to overtake public sector pay with the BBC reporting in August 2016 ago that the average pay rise, excluding bonuses was 2.2%. This results on higher staff turnover with extra work being placed on those who remain and a reduced student experience. HE needs to remain an attractive career option and this can only be achieved with an attractive pay rise both now and in the future.

Students thinking about a career in HE have been sold the idea of higher fees in return for higher salaries. If HE wants to attract students with high levels of debt into the sector, they have to pay higher salaries, otherwise they will go to the private sector.

HE also faces competition from those companies which are now offering higher apprenticeships and training in-house. This offers would be lecturers another career path and potential students the opportunity to study and gain qualifications without incurring university debt. 

You gave an example of having to empty your own waste paper bins. Whilst this seems trivial, this is another job that you have to do, part of the increased workload. Instead of employing more cleaners, your employer seeks to make efficiencies by getting you to do that work. Other areas of work are also becoming cash cows e.g. parking, catering, bus fares. It all adds up.

Oxford Brookes, according to their latest financial statements, invested £23.6m in fixed assets last year and generated an operating surplus of £6.9m. That is down to you, the experience you provide to students which makes them come year after year and all of those extra jobs that you do now that you did not do before. If HE wishes to continue to be as the successful as it has been, it needs to invest in you.

Vote to reject the pay offer and take part in strike action.

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