Low pay, low gain

May 15, 1998

EACH WEEK Gwen Brymer takes home Pounds 112, from which she needs to pay for council tax, rent, food, clothes, water, gas and electricity. She has worked at the University of Surrey for 20 years and is responsible for a team of women who clean students' bedrooms and kitchens.

As supervisor, she earns a small supplement to her 25-hours-a- week work. But her basic pay is Pounds 4.38 an hour.

"There are times when I think, 'I need some new tights, what do I go without?'" she says.

She would like to fight the pay offer but doubts whether there will be enough support from other unions.

"They don't stop and think that 3 per cent for those of us on Pounds 5,000 a year isn't very good."

And, she says, she would have to think hard about going on strike and losing a day's money. "For me that's my weekly money for food," she says. "The people most significantly affected by low pay rises can't afford to protest."

Derek Reid rarely works less than 70 hours a week. He has to support himself, his wife and two children by his ex-wife. And he wants to put something by to help his kids through college.

A chef for the past 12 years at Southampton University, he earns Pounds 4.20 an hour gross and can be asked to work any time between 7am and 7pm, on any day.

He thinks the pay offer is "pretty poor" and would favour taking action to fight for a better deal - a position shared by other unions at Southampton.

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