Article published: Wednesday, October 30th 2013
Higher education unions UCU, Unite and UNISON are to hold a one-day strike at Manchester’s two main universities and Salford University. The action on Thursday 31 October, which is the first ever coordinated strike between the three unions, reflects increasing dissatisfaction with yearly below-inflation pay offers from the employers, amounting to a 13 per cent cut in real wages in the last five years.
UCU head of higher education Michael MacNeil said: “Staff have suffered year-on-year cuts in the value of their pay. Quite simply, enough is enough.” This strike action has been announced following the recent refusal of a one per cent pay offer by universities nationwide.
The primary claim in this strike is the pay cut to higher education salaries, but the action seeks to draw attention to other employment concerns such as the use of zero hours contracts. UNISON research points out that 35 per cent of education employers use zero hours contracts, which allow greater ‘flexibility’ in the workforce, leaving employees with little job security. At the same time, top-level pay continues to rise at universities across the country.
Times Higher Education reported earlier this year that almost two-thirds of the UK’s vice-chancellors and principals received a pay increase above the sector average in 2013. Of those, 30 received at least an extra 10 per cent, with some receiving increases in excess of 20 per cent. The University of Manchester awards its vice-chancellor the sixth largest pay packet in the country, amounting to a £287,000 salary. The University recorded a record surplus of £54.1million this year. The money is clearly in the sector, yet it is not being allocated to teaching budgets.
Will Hutton, economist and former chair of the Public Sector Fair Pay Review, which reported to the coalition government 2011, has said that this sustained pay cut to higher education is “one of the largest sustained wage cuts any profession has suffered since the Second World War.” While employers are not willing to sustain wages even at the level of inflation, students are being made to shoulder more of the burden of university financing – a model which is being revealed as increasingly fragile.
This year’s proposed pay cut to higher education salaries comes amid wider concerns about declining living standards for many people as the major utility companies have recently announced hikes in energy bills for consumers. Ongoing local and nationwide protests show widespread frustration over the continuing squeeze on wages to public sector workers and a palpable feeling that austerity measures are not reflecting the interests of the majority of people within the UK. More than 50,000 people marched on the streets of Manchester to protest against privatisation of the NHS on 29th September during the Conservative Party conference. The postal workers’ union CWU are due to strike over privatisation on the 4th November if an agreement does not take place before then. The Fire Brigades Union are in negotiations over cuts to jobs and pensions, and the largest teachers’ union the NUT has recently launched one-day strike action over a pay dispute.
Staff will be picketing on the 31st October, and a rally will take place at Club Academy at the University of Manchester Student Union at 12.30pm.
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