Letter to University staff from campus Unions

Dear Colleague,

I hope you will not mind us contacting you. As we do not have access to the all-staff emailing, we have asked union members in each department/section to forward this to non-members, so that we can explain what is happening on 31 October and thereafter. As you will probably be aware, all three unions at Exeter will be on strike on 31 October, and UCU members will also be participating in ‘action short of a strike’ from 1 November; further strikes will be planned if these actions do not bring the employers back to the negotiating table. On the 31st there will be picket lines on the main entrances to the various campuses during the morning; non-members are not allowed to participate in the strike, but we do hope that you will stop and talk with us about the action and your views. There will also be a public meeting at 12.30 in the Phoenix Arts Centre on Gandy Street, to discuss the implications for higher education of the employers’ unwillingness to offer fair pay to all; non-members are welcome to attend.

Earlier this year, national negotiations over pay and working conditions for staff in Higher Education broke up with a failure to reach agreement for the academic year 2012-13. Our employers are now refusing to negotiate further. Staff at the University of Exeter (as elsewhere) are increasingly unhappy as, year on year; we have been given below inflation pay rises when most aspects of our workloads and responsibilities have steadily increased. The harsh reality is that our pay has been eroded by 13% over the last 4 years. Is this a reflection of the value university management places on its employees? By comparison, over the last four years for which data is available, the Vice Chancellor’s remuneration rose by 15% above inflation.

Following a national democratic ballot of our members, UCU, Unison and Unite have decided to demonstrate our collective anger and frustration and to bring employers back to the negotiating table by peaceful protest in the form of a strike. Staff at the University of Exeter are not known for their militancy (as far as Unison and the predecessors of Unite are concerned, the last action was 15 years ago) and it is with great regret that we are forced to take this action now. For the first time, all campus unions are agreed in a common objective of securing a fair reward for all staff.

Management at Exeter may well point to their desire to move to local bargaining in 2012 with the promise of an additional 1% above the national pay offer. This was rejected by unions in a local ballot for a number of reasons. Firstly, unions were uncomfortable with the ethics of allowing others to secure a national award without contributing to the process. The promise of more money came as a ‘something-for-something’ negotiation. In order to receive the additional 1% unions would have had to agree to reduce common terms and conditions for some sectors of the workforce, such as an erosion of sick pay entitlement for new starters. We were also asked to agree to the lowest paid staff losing holiday entitlement. We were not prepared to consider these reductions for a settlement of an additional 1%!

In the ‘something-for-something‘ deal making, management claimed that it had addressed one of our major concerns regarding the failure to introduce the ‘Living Wage’. They suggested they had achieved this by simply removing the lowest pay point. The unions did not believe this gesture was a serious engagement with the problem of low pay and fell short of what is considered a living wage. Interestingly however, following the lead of some of our institutional competitors and local organisations including Exeter City Council, the University has recently announced it is to become a ‘living wage employer’. We welcome this announcement but maintain that the University could have led the way on this last year if had engaged with our arguments for implementation at that time.

You will also have heard recently that the University has decided to reinstate a £200 Christmas bonus for those on grades A-H, and that the senior management have foregone their own 10-20% bonus package scheme for this year. This welcome decision follows a long campaign by the unions ever since the university announced, in March, that merit awards had been suspended for this year and no bonus would be paid, because of what were then projected to be poor financial results for 2012-13. We pressed the University repeatedly since the spring to tell us whether the same financial logic would be applied to senior bonuses, and it was only last week, after the strike action was confirmed, that we received this response. The University has only just last week explained how it will ensure that the loss of merit awards does not affect staff’s ability to gain contribution points (which require two years’ successive merit awards) after considerable pressure from the Trade Unions.

As these examples indicate, the unions are the only bodies which can negotiate with the University to protect and improve your terms and conditions of work. If you would like to become a union member, and be able to have your say in these campaigns, which so affect your own pay, promotion and conditions, please contact the appropriate union. The email addresses of our branch secretaries are given below.

There is bound to be some impact on students during the day of action but we hope that the principles of fairness and a sense of common community, aimed at delivering the highest quality education with happy, motivated, staff in a safe and pleasant environment, are goals we all want. We are sponsoring a petition, jointly with the Students’ Guild, to urge the university management to instruct UCEA (the employers’ national negotiating body) to return to negotiations; copies of this will be available to sign (on 31st and thereafter) and we would urge you to sign this.

For and on behalf of Exeter University Branches of UCU, Unison and Unite

Barrie Cooper (EUCU) B.Cooper@exeter.ac.uk

Andy Holcombe (Unison) A.J. Holcombe@exeter.ac.uk

Brett Crane (Unite) B.Crane@exeter.ac.uk

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