Thursday, 23 January 2014

Despatches from the picket line

So here I am, back at my desk after our first 2 hour strike in pursuit of our pay claim. In case you haven't been following it, we've been awarded 1%. Given that prices are rising at at least double that, it's a pay cut. Not the first one either: inflation's been up to 4% and our pay awards have been as low as 0.5%. When inflation is taken into account, my salary is back to 2008 levels, though my duties are very much of 2014 vintage.

To make matters worse, our pensions have been cut, our pension contributions increased and our retirement dates extended far into the future. So far, my retirement date is 2048, and it will be extended further than that before then. I fully expect to be commuting to work on a jet-pack, as a bag of bones hanging limply from a sentient metal exoskeleton, while some robot Vice-Chancellor demands to know why I'm not using the 24 hour telepathic feedback system installed for the Martian exchange students. What really depresses me is that we'll never recruit a new generation of academics. Students graduate with massive debts to pay off, and won't be attracted by a profession in which research and teaching (the good bits) are rewarded by ever-decreasing salaries, while becoming a sharp-suited upper-management axe-wielder attracts vast pay, perks and prestige.

And as if to ad insult to injury, the university's management ha budgeted for below cost-of-living settlements for the next four years, which means that teaching staff will have got poorer for an entire decade. Is the same true of senior management? Of course not: rather a lot of them are on £100,000+, while the VC is on significantly more than £200,000. They negotiate their contracts individually, making a case to a hand-picked bunch of chaps and chapesses just like them. They need to be 'retained' by massive salaries of course: shame they don't value our service just the same. Take the Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield University, who had a handy little pay rise to cover his gas bill this year: this charming gentleman is offering 1% to academic staff and refuses to raise support staff salaries to a living wage. Thankfully his new salary enables him to keep body and soul together – Sir Keith has gone from a pitiful £269,000 to a more reasonable £374,000, a modest increase of only 39%. No wonder there's nothing left in the kitty for the cleaners and teachers.

So, off we went for our strike today. In an additional burst of petty spitefulness, our Executive decided that our 2 hour strike would be punished by docking an entire day's pay, so we'll be seeing them in court very soon, as I cheerily informed the head of HR when she calm skulking round. Hoping to see a pathetic, reduced turn-out, she was greeted by a large rumbustious group which was receiving a lot of support from students despite the vile and disingenuous propaganda circulated by the management and students' union, which is sadly little more than a marketing wing of the university. Management claimed that our strike was 'disruptive' - failing conspicuously to recognise that locking us out for a full day is rather more disruptive than 2 hours of action.

Interestingly, the head of HR told the governors that they were sticking to the 'nationally agreed' 1% settlement. Now, call me a pedantic old teacher of English literature and communications, but I was under the impression that an 'agreement' needed two or more parties,

a negotiated and typically legally binding arrangement between parties as to a course of action

rather than the various members of UCEA, the employers' association , and that the poor illiterate must have mistyped the word 'imposed'. Either that, or she was deliberately misleading the governors, and I wouldn't like to believe that.

We're on strike again next week, and again the week after. Another day's pay lost, more disruption for students. We don't like it, but it's nothing compared with the tatty, demoralised, exhausted and downgraded condition higher education will be in if we let these grasping bureaucrats turn what used to be a collegiate profession into a low-rent, low-trust, low-quality service industry.

Oops: almost forgot. Kittens for the local paper.

'What do we want? Fair pay in HE!' Best picket line ever. 


Jake said...

Well, I hope the VC is subjected to every undergraduate prank that the student body's considerable ingenuity can devise. I remember this going on back in 2005 when I was at university, and being somewhat annoyed that I was the only student to bother turning up.

Arthur Adams said...

An amendment to the line under the picture:

'What do we want? Fair pay in HE! When do we want it? Meow!'

The Plashing Vole said...

I was casting around for a decent pun and just couldn't come up with one. Very good! How did I miss that one?

Alan said...

As a former lecturer and AUT senior rep (Brunel until redundancy thrust early retirement upon me in 2005) and Dark Place graduate (Ph.D. 1998, supervised by Paul Willis), I offer my moral support. Academic wages have been going down the cludgie for yonks. Not sure long lunch breaks really cut it as strikes, though.