Fair pay should be on display

April 7, 1995

The survey of vice chancellors' pay (THES, March 24) was both informative and timely.

As pay talks begin for higher education staff who are not academics it is difficult to absorb the shock-horror of "poor pickings for the profs".

You are right to say that the pay of top dogs "should not distract attention from the big issue: the pay of other university staff". The widening gap between "big stars" and professors on just less than Pounds 37,000 may be a scandal in relative terms, but the disgrace of poverty wages paid to other university and college staff is in a class of its own.

The entire blue-collar and nearly half of the non-teaching white-collar workforce fall well below the Council of Europe's definition of a living wage (Pounds 221 per week). Manual workers start on as little as Pounds 129.90 for a 38 hour week, while computer operators' pay scale starts at Pounds 6.85 per hour.

And what about perks? A lab technician can get an extra Pounds 96 per year with an advanced City and Guilds qualification. A night-shift can attract time and one-third. Part timers, who get the slimmest pickings of all commonly receive no enhancement for working beyond contractual hours. Unison proposes a Pounds 20 a week rise for all non-teaching staff. This is not greedy. It is a bid to push impoverished employees closer to a living wage.

Higher education needs a variety of shoulders to the wheel. The goodwill of those who clean, maintain and organise institutions is likely to drain away as staff compare their humiliating wages to those of the six-figure fat cats.

When Unison launches its pay campaign on May 1 it hopes that academic staff and vice chancellors will acknowledge the gross inequality in payment systems and support their colleagues.

Elaine Harrison

Head of higher education


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