No end in sight to the exploitation of univeristy staff

May 21, 1999

Anger fuelling Tuesday's strike action by the Association of University Teachers will not be lessened by the draft conclusions of the Bett review (pages 1, 6 and 7). If 3.5 per cent seems inadequate for this year, Bett's recommendation that the academic pay bill should rise by only 9 per cent and the non-academic by 8 per cent in three years' time will be disappointing.

It is particularly so since much of that increase will be needed to make good the gross inequity in pay for women, and still more will be taken up removing the inexcusable practice of requiring waivers on dismissal and redundancy rights for fixed-term staff. The substantial and necessary increases recommended for the lowest paid - both academic and support staff - and for the most senior also have to come out of this total.

What this boils down to for most staff is that they can expect very little increase, probably little more than cost of living. Meanwhile, changes are suggested to terms and conditions and dismissal procedures that will seem to threaten academic freedom. These changes are supposed to make institutions more willing to give people permanent jobs - a reason that was used to justify abolishing tenure. It did not work then. Why should it now?

Higher education staff have been exploited beyond all reason over the past 15 years. People have held on in the hope first that a change of government then the Dearing inquiry and now the Bett committee would recognise their case for uprating.

Now there is no guarantee that even the modest overall increase suggested by Bett will be forthcoming. As the report says, it all depends on the government. Without extra cash, implementing the report would mean diminution in quality.

There is a horrible precedent from Australia (page 15), where staff are asking for 19 per cent - a much more appropriate increase. Their government shows no intention of paying. Who can wonder if higher education staff lose patience?

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