So UCU members in Higher Education are due to be on strike for 2 days this week, and then working to contract thereafter, over a headline 1.1% pay offer. There are other factors too, where UCEA haven't responded adequately to union concerns on the gender pay gap and on casualised working, but the pay increase is the main issue. To be up front I voted in favour of strike action, and I do sometimes wonder if I'm just being selfish in wanting more pay, but here's some thoughts and factors.
So what is the pay offer? 1.1% is the headline increase for most pay grades, with larger increases for those on the bottom rungs of the pay scale, and a promise that the very bottom point will be removed shortly, bumping anyone on that point up one step. UCEA also argue that as many members of staff are receiving annual increments within their pay grade those staff will be getting around 4.1% increase. Overall they argue this is an average pay increase of 2.7% - comparing favourably with other sectors. See Joint Union Pay Claim and Employer's final offer, (Both PDFs).
I absolutely 100% welcome that lower paid staff are going to have higher increases in salary, as I feel they need it most, and we need to maintain a genuine living wage, but bringing incremental pay into the negotiation of what is intended to be a cost of living increase seems unfair. I've been at the top of my pay grade for 5 years now, without an increment - and unless I move to another job I don't expect to get one, as it's unlikely this job would be re-graded as the next grade up. I've informally approached someone who was advertising a relevant job at the next highest grade, and they're only interested in a full time employee at this point - and I expect this is true in many cases.
How does 1.1% compare with inflation? Well it depends on which inflation! CPI is currently at 0.3.%, RPI has just fallen from 1.6% to 1.3%, but UK wage growth is currently around 2.2%. UCU argue that since 2009 our wages have fallen by 14.5% in real terms (see When is a pay rise not a pay rise?), and to be honest I don't know enough to be able to argue this one one way or another. But when we're told that Vice Chancellors have had an average pay increase last year of 6.1% (or 5.4% including pensions contributions), 1.1% seems increasing small. (See THE Pay Survey 2016).
On top of this we're already feeling worse off right now as our pensions contributions have just gone up, and our NI contributions have gone up too with the end of "contracting out". Having had a play with a salary calculator at lunchtime today it appears that with a 1.1% pay increase my actual take home pay would go back up by £13 a month to just £1 less than it was in March. And I've been quite "lucky" there due to a larger than average chunk of my pay going in salary sacrifice for childcare vouchers, so it made less difference to me than to many.
I don't particularly want to strike. I'm not sure we have a lot of sympathy and I'm not sure it will achieve our aims, but I sure as hell am not willing to accept this pay offer without a fight, so I think I *need* to strike.