Last year, anger over unfair and worsening pay and conditions at UK universities finally boiled over. After five years of falling pay levels, university staff decided that they had been left with no alternative but to take action. Members of all four of the trade unions representing staff at the UK’s 180 universities voted to go on strike, even though they knew they would lose pay for doing so. After three days of joint strike action from staff across the higher education sector, including professors, cleaners, and managers, the unions were able to negotiate a 2% pay rise. For the first time in half a decade staff pay kept in line with inflation.
The 2% pay rise went to almost everybody, including hundreds of hourly paid staff (workers who submit timesheets) at the University of Bath, many of whom are undergraduate and postgraduate students working for the University through JobLink, or on what the university calls “casual worker agreements” (more commonly known as zero hour contracts). The University would not give it to staff who are paid the minimum wage.
The pay settlement in May brought a halt to industrial action, but now, attacks on the staff pension scheme have led to a new dispute. Proposed changes to the scheme would see some lose thousands of pounds a year in their retirement. In response to this attack, members of the University and Colleague Union (UCU, the union representing academic and academic-related staff and postgraduate students) began a boycott of all assessment-related work on November 6th in an attempt to bring employers back to the negotiating table.
Unfortunately, the University of Bath senior management have responded by declaring an arbitrary 25% pay deduction for all staff who take part, despite the fact that 25% does not represent the proportion of workloads made up of assessment-related work! The University also implied a further threat of 100% pay-docking should the action continue.
These bullying tactics of university management have unsurprisingly outraged not only staff, but also many students. Last week the NUS and Students’ Unions across the country came out in support of university staff. Nationally, over 60 SU officers, including those at Bath Spa and Bristol, signed a letter in the Independent stating their anger over the assessment boycott is aimed “squarely at university managements“
Disappointingly, University of Bath Students’ Union (SU) Officers were not among the signatories. Now, Bath students have voted for our own Students’ Union to break its silence and to show solidarity with the people who teach and support us.
While some staff are fending off attacks on their pensions, they are not the only ones suffering from the University’s exploitative employment practices.
The University of Bath was exposed as one of the biggest users of “zero hours contracts” last year, and many of those staff still earn less than the Living Wage of £7.85 an hour. Nearly 80 hourly-paid job titles are listed on the University’s website – jobs such as lifeguards, receptionists, shop assistants, fitness instructors, and cleaners. Of these, 28 pay less than the Living Wage while 13 pay the bare legal minimum.
In an expensive city like Bath, where living costs are high, especially rent, it is no wonder that questions are being asked about the justification for such low levels of pay. The sense of injustice only worsens when you consider that the University’s Vice Chancellor, Glynis Breakwell is now paid over £380,000 per year. Professor Breakwell has received significant pay rises since tuition fees increased to £9,000 per year – a rise that she campaigned in favour of.
To add insult to injury, a postgraduate student member of Bath UCU recently discovered that the University has been underpaying all hourly-paid staff, and has been doing so since 2009. Workers in the UK are entitled to paid holiday leave by law. The University does not allow hourly paid staff to take paid holiday, but instead pays them an additional amount of money for each hour worked, which must be shown on your payslip. The legal minimum amount of this holiday pay is 12.07% of the hourly rate, so an hourly paid bar worker paid £6.50 per hour is entitled to an additional 78p per hour. The University was caught paying only 10.7%. Bath UCU took the issue up with university management on behalf of staff and the rate has now been amended to 12.07%, but the underpayments in previous years have not yet been paid. In fact, the University have not even informed hourly paid staff of the error.
If you are one of the thousands who worked as an hourly paid member of staff and submitted timesheets before October 1st, you could be owed money. If you want advice on how to submit a claim you can contact one of the trade unions, either UNISON or UCU, who work to improve pay and conditions for hourly paid-staff.
And if you think the University of Bath should pay a living wage, end the use of zero hour contracts and pay the holiday pay it has kept back from thousands of staff, you can join the lobby of University Council on Thursday 27th November from 3.45pm, at the Council Chamber in Wessex House.
The University of Bath’s response to these issues can be found here.