The opening salvoes in the 2012-13 pay round for staff on the 51-point pay spine were launched last week with a derisory offer of 0.5 per cent made by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association to the higher education joint unions, including Unite.
For those who don't know, over the past three years salaries have risen by 0.5 per cent, 0.4 per cent and 0.5 per cent respectively. Many of the staff above the 51-point pay spine (paid more than £55,900) have not been limited to such tiny raises: we have only to look at vice-chancellors' remuneration to see that. Clearly, we are not all in this together.
As the Higher Education Funding Council for England has found, universities are setting large amounts aside as operating surpluses. Around £1.2 billion (4.6 per cent of income) was banked in 2010-11. At the same time, total pay spending as a proportion of income has fallen from 54.3 per cent to 53 per cent, a historic low.
The joint unions calculate that since 2009, the real-term loss owing to inflation for staff on the pay spine is a minimum of £1,001 on the bottom to a maximum of £3,773 at the top.
The unions are seeking a retail price index-based rise of around 3.7 per cent, with some catch-up for the lost RPI increase from 2009 to 2011. The claim also calls on universities to commit to paying a "living wage" of around £15,000 a year for staff outside London, as calculated by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and based on research carried out at York and Loughborough universities. Yet Ucea has begun negotiations with a derisory 0.5 per cent offer, worth about £65 a year to the lowest-paid staff. There are two more negotiating sessions planned, but such a low opening gambit does not augur well for a satisfactory outcome.
Unite members have still not resolved the 2011 pay round. If the increase on offer does not reflect the real-terms pay erosion that Unite members have suffered, then we are ready for the battle ahead.
Mike Robinson, National officer, education sector, Unite