A support staff worker at the University of Birmingham has challenged the vice-chancellor, Sir David Eastwood, and other senior managers to live off her pay for a month, as strikes over pay at the institution continue.
Unison members took strike action last month and a further strike took place on 16 July, with another set to take place on 17 July.
Support staff at Birmingham – including caterers, cleaners and security guards – negotiate on pay locally with university management.
They received a 2 per cent pay rise offer for 2018-19, but are looking for the university to exceed retail price index inflation (2.8 per cent for 2018) and to make up for some of the pay lost to inflation in previous years.
A letter from a member of catering staff at Birmingham has attracted widespread support and hundreds of endorsements.
In the letter, the anonymous staff member challenges Sir David, who earns £444,000 a year and is soon to pocket an £80,000 bonus, and other senior management, to live off the salary of a typical member of support staff for a month. Working a 36-hours-a-week term-time contract, she takes home £977.96 a month and her various bills leave her in the red even before she has bought any food or personal items, she says.
She asks the senior leaders to “put yourselves truly in our shoes” and then “ask yourselves are support staff valued, respected and rewarded as they should be?”
While saying she understands that the university finances are “not a bottomless pit” and there is a need to invest in the university, she adds that she does not understand “how you can justify taking hefty bonuses whilst other staff members can’t afford the basic necessities”.
She came to Birmingham 10 years ago to “escape domestic violence with nothing but the clothes I stood in and a suitcase for my child”, she continues.
The mother-of-two started working for the university four years ago and “felt very lucky to have gotten a job at such a wonderful place”.
“I have taken out loans to make ends meet, I have lived on my free staff dinner only, so I could feed my children, I have used foodbanks on a regular basis,” she writes.
She adds: “I am left with no choice but to work two jobs to pay basic bills. This is not a life I choose, this is a life I am given no choice in.”
Mike Moore, joint Unison branch secretary at Birmingham, described the catering worker’s letter as "really moving”.
He said that the crux of the issue is not that the “university is a terrible employer, it’s much better than many employers” but that it “could afford to do a lot more”.
“You have got this incredibly high senior staff pay, of which the vice-chancellor is really the most notable example, but you are not paying enough to your ordinary members of staff who would really benefit from their pay keeping up with inflation,” he continued.
Unison members do not want to strike on graduation days but feel “forced” into taking action by Birmingham, he added.