Dear Members,

Many of you will by now have heard that the employers negotiating body UCEA (Universities and Colleges Employers Association) intend to impose a pay freeze for the 2020/21 pay round. UNISON’s national office, via the Higher Education Service Group Executive has responded to this with the following statement:

To say this branch is disappointed is an understatement: members at this university, in common with other UNISON members across Higher Education, have worked tirelessly to keep the sector running over the last four months. We have all seen the words of thanks that have been sent to staff from the Vice Chancellor and other senior members of staff at this university. It is often said that “saying thank you costs nothing”, but it is also true that “thank you” buys nothing, it puts nothing in your bank account, it doesn’t help with the rent or the food bill.

UNISON agreed to postpone negotiations in good faith at the start of the current crisis and the response from UCEA was that they asked us to accept a pay freeze without even having a single joint negotiation meeting. UCEA’s board is made up of Vice Chancellors and Principles of various Higher Education Institutions with take home pay at levels unimaginable to most of us. Few of them will appreciate the challenges faced by people who have been paid far too little for far too long, doing any one of the hundreds of vital jobs that keep a university running day to day. This “offered” pay freeze is proposed before universities know the true numbers of students that will enrol in autumn, but even if the numbers are better than expected we have been told that negotiations will not be re-opened.

We are clear that a pay freeze (0%) is a pay cut, similar to all the other below inflation pay-rises we have had over the last decade: rent and mortgage payments have not been frozen, the price of milk has not been frozen, public transport and utility costs have not been frozen, while anyone working from home will have seen their electricity and gas bill rocket. On the other hand universities have saved a fortune on those utility costs; they have saved on being able to furlough staff and have the government pay 80% of our salaries. It has never been more clear that the employer sees staff pay as a ‘soft-target’ for making savings for the business, rather than something fundamental to thousands of peoples’ lives: they are economising out of the workers’ pockets and it is not good enough.

We will be asking what feedback our Vice Chancellor sent to UCEA in terms of granting them a mandate for a pay freeze and asking what is going to be put in place locally to reward staff for their hard work, not just in recent months, but over the whole year. We will be consulting you on what action you think UNISON should be taking in response to this national aberration, and as always we will be guided by you. The employer is banking on us not having the fight to stand up for what we deserve and it is up to all of us to prove them wrong.

In Solidarity
The Branch Committee

PS: the recent announcements of pay rises for other public sector workers of between 2-3.1%, are noted.