Open letter from Unison to University of Birmingham

Below is an open letter from University of Birmingham Unison, it’s important that students read. Unison members, the universities support staff  are earning below the UK poverty line, they being giving increasing workloads and having their weekends taken away are considering strike action.

We should ask ourselves who’s are people who makes sure there are books in the library, arranges the lectures, keeps the computers running, guards the campus, keeps the university clean and cooks the food? It is certainly not the university executive. 96 University bosses cost us £14.7 million pounds, yet all the support staff wages combined have a wage bill bellow £25 million. One group is paid a bomb, the other pittance but, yet it’s the support staff who if lost would be the biggest loss to the university.

This is a dispute taking place because we have a university management which seems to only place value on itself and nothing else, certainly not the people who actually make the university run. If things carry on as they are and support staff are paid less and become even more overworked then the university as whole will suffer.

Professor Michael Sheppard
Provost and Vice-Principal
Thursday 31st May, 2012

Dear Michael,

Open letter in reply to your email to support staff received on Tuesday 29th May.

UNISON have, on behalf of all staff, attempted to negotiate a fair deal with the University for support staff throughout the last 12 months. Unfortunately, we believe the University have never entered into serious negotiations with us and our strike ballot follows on from 2 consultative ballots which we conducted and informed you of the outcome. A strike ballot is always a last resort and it is a democratic ballot of our members, your staff, providing them with a voice and we have met all of our legal obligations in relation to it.

Support staff pay has continued to deteriorate in real terms every year since 2009. You make the point that the £250 per year amounts to 1.9% and that this is higher than other Universities. What you have not made clear however is that:

  1. This relates to just 77 staff out of the 2169 support staff employed at the University (based on University figures provided to UNISON by HR, March 2011).
  2. That last year Keele University awarded a 2% pay rise to all their lowest paid staff and indeed one leading London University, Imperial College, paid 2% to all of their staff, excluding London weighting, as we pointed out in December last year.
  3. The vast majority of UK Universities have maintained a final salary pension scheme which is much better for staff than this University’s GPPS pension. By not providing staff with a final salary pension scheme the University makes a significant cost saving.
  4. The vast majority of Universities also pay allowances for evening and weekend working, something that the vast majority of our lowest paid members here do not receive. We all want to work in better buildings and for our students to have the best student experience.

The University should remember however that it wasn’t UNISON who supported increasing tuition fees to £9000 per year, and we have never heard the University speak out against tuition fee rises. Indeed, when UNISON members marched alongside students campaigning against the increase in tuition fees the silence from the University over government policy was deafening. Our members and support staff are always going the extra mile to help our students. We are the ones on the front line who are here for them when they are facing problems, who support and advise them and consistently deliver a high level of service for our students. Unfortunately it has become increasingly apparent that those at the top of the University do not recognise the hard work staff put in.

The University also needs to recognise that whether someone is on a band 100 wage of £13,294 or the £419,000 of the Vice Chancellor, they all have to pay same for bread, milk andthey all need to pay their rent, mortgage and ever rising gas and electricity bills. The impact on staff wages of rising prices and living costs is illustrated in the table below:

Amount support staff have lost in real terms based on inflation (Retail Price Index) taking into account 2009 – 2011 pay awards. Figures as of 1st August 2011.

The cost to the University of helping the lowest paid staff is minimal. Last year the University income increased again and indeed the University Surplus increased by £4.7 million a year from £22.3m to £27 million. We believe the cost of the support staff wage bill, for 2269 support staff, based on University figures, is less than 9% of the University income (as of 1st April 2011) and that the University can find the money for either a one off bonus payment to help low paid families afford a summer holiday or pay gas bills, or make a further percentage rise in the pay of staff from the 1st June.

UNISON recognises the impact that any strike action on Open days would have. The University however should acknowledge that something has gone seriously wrong when their own staff ask their Trade Union for a strike ballot. Staff do not take this step lightly and we remain open to negotiations as we have been all year. However, for negotiations to succeed there has to be a commitment from both sides and sadly we believe this has been lacking from the University so far. As you have written to all staff we would ask that in the interests of transparency and fairness you circulate our letter to you to all support staff as well.

The University has the opportunity to resolve this dispute before any strike action takes place and UNISON will consider any reasonable offer for support staff. We hope you and the University will take this opportunity to resolve the dispute.

Yours sincerely Matt Matthew Raine Secretary, Birmingham

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