The strike took place in an attempt to get the university to attend negotiations to try to work out a fair pay rise for support staff. The university has offered a pay increase of 1%, which is below inflation rates.
The strike by Unison on Thursday 16th January, began at midnight with picketing starting at 6am going through to 11:30pm. A meeting took place at St. Francis Hall at 12pm, which ran for an hour and had many speakers, including the secretaries of the striking unions and Guild Vice-President for Education, Hattie Craig.
The strike took place in an attempt to get the university to attend negotiations to try to work out a fair pay rise for support staff. The university has offered a pay increase of 1%, which is below inflation rates. At present, trade union UNISON estimate that up to 350 support staff are paid below the living wage of £7.65. UNISON along with UNITE challenge the university’s decision to enforce this modest pay rise at a time that the university is awarding its Vice-Chancellor a £28,000 a year pay rise, up to £400,000. Matthew Raine, UNISON branch secretary, claims that giving the living wage to these workers will cost the university £100,000 a year. An anonymous technician said that ‘it was not fair that we only get a 1% pay rise. Surely it would only be fair if the Vice-Chancellor only took a 1% pay rise this year too’.
Strikers want to try and renegotiate a fairer wage with the university.
Gisela Stuart, Steve McCabe and Jack Domey (MPs for Edgbaston, Selly Oak and Erdington respectively) all gave support for the strike, along with Ian Ward, Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council.
Estimates of up to 150 staff attended the strike and up to 800 took the day off of work. One member of staff pleaded for students to help them in their fight, saying that the university treats students like customers. According to them ‘ten of you are paying for the Vice-Chancellor’s gold bath taps’.
Nineteen people were picketing at the south gate by Victoria Halls at 6am. On the picket line, one cleaner said that they were ‘all here to support each other’. They were also unhappy that if a member of staff left, the university would not replace them quickly, meaning that the staff would have to take on more work to cover their missing colleague’s shift without overtime pay.
Another cleaner explained that the university watered down all of the cleaning chemicals, which leave the university ‘unsanitary’.
At the rally, Matthew Raine declared that ‘we believe it is wrong that a supposedly leading Russel group university can give its Vice-Chancellor a £28,000 a year pay rise but refuse to pay a living wage of £7.65 to its lowest paid staff’.
Hattie Craig (VPE):
However, not everybody welcomed strike action. Many students were very upset and angered by the catering establishments and libraries either being shut or shut early. One student left the library explained that he thought ‘it is unfair that these support staff are trying to disrupt our learning. At the end of the day the problems are to do with the university staff and their employers. Why are they trying to make students suffer as a consequence of their dispute? The students are the losers in this situation.’
It is unknown at current what the long-term effects of the strike action will be. However unless something is achieved, both unions said they could be declaring further action.