Union to use stunt tactics

June 28, 2002

Vice-chancellors could find themselves accosted by monkeys begging for peanuts during degree ceremonies as union members stage a series of stunts aimed at causing maximum embarrassment in the fight for better pay and conditions.

Corporate fundraising functions, conferences and student open days could be blighted by protests designed to cause disruption with maximum publicity in mind.

The tactics, borrowed from America, were formally approved by higher education members of the Transport and General Workers Union last week.

They joined every other higher education union in rejecting an "insulting" 2.5 to 2.8 per cent pay offer, with £5 a year for the lowest paid.

Many of the TGWU members in support-staff roles earn £4.50 an hour. The Bett report on pay in 1999 said that no university staff member should earn less than £11,000 by August 2002, a recommendation that is unlikely to be met.

The union is keeping its campaign plans secret but believes the huge disparities in pay between cleaners and caterers at the bottom of the pay scales, and vice-chancellors at the top, are ripe for exploitation.

Chris Kaufman, the union's national secretary, said the action was inspired by the Ken Loach film Bread and Roses , about the Los Angeles "Justice for Janitors" campaign against the exploitation of immigrant cleaners.

Hinting at the kind of action being planned, Mr Kaufman said the film culminated in an emotional invasion of a glittering Hollywood awards ceremony by an army of vacuum cleaner-wielding janitors.

"We will ask how many canapés and glasses of champagne it takes to fund proper pay increases for the lowest paid," Mr Kaufman said. "It is our way of educating people who do not know what it is like to live on £4.50 an hour."

Sir George Bain, vice-chancellor of Queen's University, Belfast, is a possible target. The union said Sir George, also head of the Low Pay Commission, has just taken delivery of a £50,000 Mercedes, which could fund more than 11,000 hours of work at £4.50 an hour.

A spokesman for Sir George said that the union had chosen a bad example - the car was worth just £30,000, was the property of Queen's and was used only when Sir George was representing the university as an "ambassador" for higher education.

"Formerly principal of the London Business School, where he had the use ofa more luxurious vehicle, Sir George took a considerable pay cut to occupy his current post," Queen's said.

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