Birmingham UCU reacted with disbelief after University of Birmingham management yesterday (22 January) claimed to be “committed to a moderate and reasonable approach to employee relations”.
In an all-staff email, Professor Tim Jones, Provost and Vice-Principal sought to discourage staff from supporting UCU’s ballot to tackle casualisation, excessive workloads, close the gender pay gap and secure a real-terms pay rise . Attempting to put a positive gloss on last year’s below-inflation 2% pay ‘increase’, Jones correctly pointed out the ‘increase’ is “higher than those of recent years”. He then discussed “significant concerns over the future sustainability of universities”, as a result of Brexit, the Government’s HE funding review and changes to the USS pension scheme.
Declining pay for the many, runaway pay for the few
Curiously, the email neglected to mention that over the past three years, when average pay has increased by a meagre 0.1%, senior University Executive Board pay shot up by 15%. Clearly, years of austerity and looming financial uncertainty have yet to reach the University Executive Board.
Birmingham UCU was particularly shocked by the sentence professor Jones used to sign off his email:
“We hope that colleagues will continue to see that we are committed to a moderate and reasonable approach to employee relations.”
A potted history of unreasonable behaviour at UoB
The campus union disputed this claim, pointing to the following recent incidents as examples of unreasonable employee relations:
- Refusing to meet with Birmingham UCU under the University’s normal Joint Negotiating and Consultative Committee at a time when students, staff, the media and politicians were expressing serious concerns over the University’s new Dubai campus;
- Refusing longstanding demands for the University to become an accredited Real Living Wage employer, despite generating an annual surplus of £200 million;
- Refusing to work with Birmingham UCU and other campus trade unions to address endemic casualisation. In 2016, The Guardian revealed 70% of teaching staff were found to on insecure contracts, the highest in the Russell Group.
- Developing plans in secret to strictly monitor non-EU staff without consulting staff and unions. Despite critical media coverage,condemning the plans as ‘racist’, the University continues to insist there has been no change in policy whilst simultaneously acknowledging it has issued [new] correct guidelines have now been issued to affected staff.
- Transferring already low-paid staff over to a new wholly-owned subsidiary hotel company then, less than a year later, refusing union recognition for new staff. This is expected to result in a two-tier workforce, with newer members of staff no longer receiving the same pay and benefits regular university staff take for granted.
Birmingham UCU encourages staff as well as other university stakeholders to make up their own minds as to whether the University is committed to a moderate and reasonable approach to employee relations.