Reasons for our industrial action

Why are we taking industrial action?

  • Loss in value of our pay

Since 2009 university staff have had a 14.5% real terms pay cut after year upon year of increases that have not kept pace with cost of living. That means the purchasing power of our salary has been eroded by inflation by 14.5%; and that is without taking into account much higher increases in property prices (and local variations in rents). In Cambridge, the third most expensive city in the UK to live, this is a particular problem.

  • Significant rises in Vice-Chancellor (VC) principal and senior pay

This year VCs received an average 6.1% pay increase. In 2013–14 the average VC salary was £260,290 and, on average, VCs were paid 6.4 times more than the average salary of staff. Average pay for VCs grew by around 14% between 2011-16. Cambridge’s VC is paid around £325 000.

  • Surpluses in the sector

The higher education sector posted an £1.8bn operating surplus this year, yet management claims that we cannot afford more than a 1.1% pay rise.

  • Gender inequality

A difference of £6,103 a year, or 12.6% between the salaries of men and women, with a total gender pay gap of £528 million. At Cambridge this gap is even higher, at 17.4% (according to the 2015 Times Higher Education Annual Pay Survey).

  • The spread of casualised contracts

75,000 university staff are on casualised contracts, and at least 21,000 of these are zero-hours contracts. Short­-term contracts – sometimes for 9 months so institutions don’t have to pay wages for the summer – and unpredictable hours are bad for teaching, staff wellbeing and quality of research. And despite its wealth, these kinds of contracts are rapidly spreading at Cambridge (as they have been at Oxford for some time). Our branch is awaiting responses to FOI and information requests we have made to college and university HR about the extent of casualisation in Cambridge. But through our network of departmental reps and the casework we do for members, we already know these kinds of contracts are becoming much more common.

  • Pay increases will benefit those on fractional contracts

People are being moved from hourly pay to fractional contracts on the national pay scale. Increases or decreases on the national pay scale are therefore particularly important for people on temporary contracts and at the bottom of the pay scale.

Other justifications

  • Poor financial management by the universities

Annual above-RPI raises for senior administrators, stockpiling of cash reserves, or spending on buildings rather than passing a share of increased revenue stream to staff.

  • Profit accumulation

Universities shouldn’t be prioritising the accumulation of large profits (‘reserves’ or ‘operating surpluses’ in the semi-public lingo), hubristic building projects and above-RPI annual pay increases for management and VCs, while staff pay does not keep pace with the increased cost of living and students pay ever higher fees.

  • Cambridge cost of living

Cambridge is the third most expensive city in the UK. The cost of housing in particular makes the stagnation of the national pay scale, particularly for early-career academics, a major problem. The solution cannot be ‘market pay’, the salary supplements sometimes given to new staff appointed in Cambridge and other universities: their lack of transparency and discretionary nature reinforces gender inequality and undermines equality between staff doing the same job. The only fair solution is a better deal for all staff.