UCU union members in 110 Universities and 147 colleges are being balloted over pay in England and Wales. The ballot was launched three weeks ago and closes on 19 October.
In higher education (HE) UCU’s demands is for a 7.5 percent increase or £1,500 whichever is greater, and action to close the gender pay gap by 2020. In Further Education (FE) it is for a 5 percent increase.
Lecturers in FE have suffered a pay cut of 24 percent in the last eight years. Alongside this pay cut 24,000 jobs have gone whilst student numbers remain more or less the same.
Similarly, in HE the pay settlement in 2017-18 for the majority of HE staff was yet another below inflation uplift. This is against a backdrop of staff reporting ever increasing workloads, increasing casualisation and working hours and increased work-related stress.
The issues of casualisation and the widening gap between women’s and men’s pay in the sectors are ones that drive this year’s campaign.
Staff in both sectors are increasingly frustrated and angered by employers insisting that they cannot afford a pay rise that begins to turn round the years of pay cuts. Staff have seen vice-chancellors, principals and chief executives award themselves salaries up to £400,000 a year whilst offering another pay cut for them.
In FE last year a third of principals awarded themselves a 10 percent pay rise while over 40 percent of colleges did not even implement the AoC, the national employers’ body, 1 percent rise recommendation.
In 2016-17 British universities reported a record surplus of £2.27 billion.
Clearly the money is there to pay a decent award this year. No longer do staff accept the employers’ narrative that they can’t afford to pay up.
Of course the government is responsible for the cuts in the sectors and we need to continue to campaign for more funding. This is why UCU has joined with other college unions to march and lobby Parliament on Wednesday 17 October.
We have the best opportunity for over a decade to win a significant increase over pay. This year’s campaign comes on the back of the 14 days of escalating strike action in HE in defence of pensions and eight days of escalating strike action by 12 colleges in FE.
Both campaigns secured significant wins for staff in the sectors. In FE deals were struck over pay, casualisation and better terms and conditions at most of the 12 colleges that took action.
The impact of these campaigns are still being felt in the sectors. In FE the largest employer, the Newcastle College Group, agreed a deal which moves all its staff on casual contracts to permanent ones.
Also this month saw in HE the findings of a joint expert panel made up of employers and academics, set up in the aftermath of the pensions dispute, explodes the myths about the deficit in the pension scheme. This was at the heart of the dispute at the beginning of the year.
We are in a great position to turn the tide of wage restraint in both sectors. We need to redouble our efforts in the next three weeks to ensure that we once again beat the Tory anti-union law ballot thresholds.