This Thursday, members of the Unison and Unite trade unions, who represent support staff at the University of Birmingham from cleaners through to library staff and security, will be going on strike in response to the mega pay rise of 1% offered by University management. An estimate of 300 of those staff now earn below the living wage and are on £13946 a year – compared to the VC earning a basic salary of 400.000 a year.
In anticipation of the impact of the strike, the University have sought to intimidate via email those who intend to strike, patronisingly citing the difficult times that the University sector is facing as a result of government cuts to the education budget that has placed institutions within a “more highly competitive market” and emphasising the withholding of wages from striking staff. The email correspondence between the University Provost and Vice-Principal Adam Tickell cites the fact that their costs “are rising just as yours are” and refers to the limitations that the £9,000 fee cap places on the University’s financial situation, which the University are lobbying for the removal of. This insultingly drawing parallels between the circumstances of some of the lowest paid workers within the University, many trying to support families, and the financial operations of an institution that operates at a multi-million pound surplus every year and has awarded the Vice Chancellor David Eastwood a £28,000 pay rise this year, making him the highest paid Vice Chancellor in the U.K. The email goes on to identify the fact that the University has “increased the pay of support staff by more than the level of national awards”, despite these increases still representing below-inflation levels, meaning that staff continue to lose money.
The rise in Vice Chancellor salaries of, on average, £22,000 this year across the Russell Group, when compared with the offered pay increase of 1%, half the rate of inflation, highlights the priorities of University managers across the country, who prefer to line the pockets of the very highest paid rather than give support staff a wage that enables them to live adequately (currently estimated at around £8.31 per hour). In real terms, staff at the University of Birmingham have lost between £1,255 for the lowest paid, and £2,259 for those in higher pay bands, per year over the last four years. This disparity in pay from a financially solvent institution such as the University of Birmingham can only be seen as exemplary of the greed of senior management and the contempt with which they hold those staff that maintain, on a daily basis, the environment that we as students depend on for our work.
There will be a rally at 12pm this Thursday in support of the striking staff, with a picket running from 5.am. We urge students to come to the picket line and stand in solidarity with these members of staff who’s hard every day work makes our campus the place it is and allows us to study in a comfortable environment. These members of staff also supported us in our fight against £9,000 fees and the privatization of the university sector in this country. By standing together we send a message to University managers across the country, and particularly at the University of Birmingham, that we demand our staff to be adequately paid and that the gross disparity in wages between the highest and lowest paid members of our university community will not be tolerated.
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