Strike action called for 31 October #fairpayinHE

Unite newsflash email: Strike action in Higher Education 31 October
Unite newsflash email: Strike action in Higher Education 31 October

Yesterday I received an email from Unite the Union. of which I am a member, calling me out to strike in favour of fair pay on Thursday 31 October.

I joined Amicus (MSF Clergy and Churchworkers branch) in 2003 which later merged with the TGWU and became Unite the Union. My reason for joining a union began with a letter I received on 11 January 2003 which gave me six weeks to leave my then position as assistant curate, a post that according to canon law requires me to be given three months’ notice. I felt wonderfully supported by the union and their advice was really helpful even if I was made to be felt like a trouble-maker by getting involved with the unions. When I moved from full-time church employment to the university in 2006 I kept my union membership up and simply moved branches from churchworkers to higher education.

A few years ago while the University of St Andrews was merging two units (Business Improvements and IT Services) the three main unions that support those working in higher education: UCU, Unison and Unite were a very present help to those of us caught up in the uncertainty of the restructure.

For the last few years these three unions have been working collaboratively to negotiate better annual pay rises for university employees, with little success. Over the last four years the following offers have been made, to the best of my knowledge:

  • 2009: 0.5%
  • 2010: 0.4%
  • 2011: 0.5%
  • 2012: 1.0%

This year, I believe, the offer was again for a 1.0% pay increase. According to the email from Unite that means “in real terms [pay] has been cut by 13%” during the past five years while the salaries of UK university principals and vice-chancellors has very often gone up. (I received a PDF of vice-chancellors’ remuneration 2011-2012 which showed that while some VCs’ salaries decreased by up to 42%, some had increased by as much as 111%!)

Over the last few years I’ve received ballot papers from Unite asking it we wanted to accept these low pay offers, and if all unions rejected the offer would we be prepared to take matters further with work-to-rule directives or strike action. Each year the vote has returned a ‘no’ to strike action from my union. Until now.

On Thursday 31 October (a week today) the members of Unite, UCU and Unison have been recommended to take strike action at universities across the UK.

There is more information about the strike on the following unions’ websites:

You can also sign the petition.

Given that strike action is such a serious sanction the unions recommend that all members observe the strike. Not doing so rather undermines the bargaining power that the unions have and makes it harder to protect its members.

The union has supported me tremendously over the last ten years, time for me to support them supporting me. So, it looks like I’m going on strike next week.

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