Birmingham University support workers on strike, 28.6.19, credit: Nick Hart (uploaded 03/07/2019)
Birmingham University support workers on strike, 28.6.19, credit: Nick Hart (uploaded 03/07/2019)

Clive Walder, Birmingham Socialist Party

Support staff working in maintenance, estates, catering etc at the University of Birmingham, members of Unison, held a one-day strike on 17 August. They were protesting about the employer’s proposals to force through changes to terms and conditions as part of pay negotiations.

Unison had been negotiating a new pay structure since last year, but the university bosses have failed to make an acceptable offer, and are now trying to pressurise members into sacrificing existing terms and conditions in exchange for a one-off taxable and non-pensionable payment of £700. The university is also bypassing the normal negotiation process and making individual offers to staff.

Workers are adamant that conditions shouldn’t be traded for a one-off payment, and fear this could set a precedent. There are immediate threats of reduced rates of pay for weekend working, removal of non-weekend rest days for staff who normally work weekends, and abolition of shift allowances for anti-social or extended shifts. This will make it less attractive to work evenings and weekends and staff fear that they will be forced to work them against their will in the future.

One striker said: “Working on catering used to be great. I love the team I work with and talking to the customers, but management are making the job unbearable.”

Many pickets pointed out that the University of Birmingham is extremely wealthy; it owns a large amount of land in the affluent suburb of Edgbaston and has just built a campus in Dubai. They believe that the university cares more about lucrative international business than the workers who keep the university running.

Members are prepared to take action until they secure an acceptable deal. One picket said: “We need socialism! The bosses get big money, and we get nothing.”

Unison in HE national ballot

Unison members at 13 universities have met the 50% Tory turnout threshold in their ballot for strike action against the below-inflation 2023-24 pay offer of 5-8%. Workers at these 13 universities plan to go on strike in September. The result brings the total number of higher education institutions with mandates for action to 22. Nine other universities have seen strike action by Unison members over the summer.