The University of Bath is under pressure after two unions representing University staff are to take action over pay and pension disputes.
Starting from Thursday 6th November, members of the University and College Union (UCU), which represents over 500 of the University of Bath’s academic and academic-related staff, will begin an assessment boycott. This means that staff participating in the action will not mark coursework or other assignments indefinitely.
In a late decision on Wednesday, the University of Bath said that those members of staff who do take part in the action will receive a 25% cut to their salaries for the duration of the boycott.
The UCU, is questioning the decision of the Universities UK group (UUK), a higher-education advocacy organisation, to alter the University Superannuation Scheme (USS), the pension scheme for academics and senior administrative staff.
The UUK has argued that the USS as it stands is no longer sustainable, but the UCU claims that staff will “lose thousands of pounds in retirement.”
The 25% sum put forward by the University represents the presumed amount of time dedicated by academic staff to assessment, a figure which Michael Carley, the University of Bath’s UCU Vice-President claimed is “pulled out of their arses”.
Dr Carley, a Senior Lecturer in the Department for Mechanical Engineering, went on to say, “We can’t give in to threats like this. If we find a settlement on this, we will go back and mark students’ work.”
“We have tolerated years of attacks on our pay and conditions, and now even our chance of dignity in old age risks being taken from us by these rushed and unjustified changes to our pensions, which will only go to pay for cocaine and prostitutes for bankers.”
In a letter obtained by bathimpact, sent to all staff eligible for the USS, the University of Bath Human Resources Department warned those wishing to take part “would consequently not be entitled to [their] contractual pay from the date when you start to participate in the action.”
In a formal statement on the matter, the University of Bath Executive Committee said, “Our students have placed their confidence in us and we hope we can justify it by minimising any disruption to their education through this period of uncertainty.”, before concluding, “our colleagues who are eligible for USS membership [have been] advised of the implications of taking action.”
Jordan Kenny, the University of Bath Students’ Union President, informed bathimpact that they were due to meet UCU staff in the coming days. He also claimed that students will be given the opportunity to express their opinion on the action via an online poll, now available on Bath Student. The SU is currently unaligned on the issue.
Mr Kenny said, “It remains unclear as to what extent the strikes, if they take place, will be adopted by members of UCU, and as a result the knock on effect on students.”
The Pro-Vice Chancellor for Learning and Teaching, Professor Bernie Morley, has claimed that, “it is regrettable that the trade union has decided to take this action because of the potential for disruption to your studies, but we will be doing all we can to minimise the impact of this.”
“The Students’ Union has been kept fully informed, and the impact of the industrial action will be continuously monitored by a small group which I am chairing.”
Last week, a ballot by the union saw members vote 87% in favour for the marking boycott, which is just short of a strike. The vote saw a turnout of 45% of members; the highest in a national higher education ballot since UCU was formed in 2006. Staff from 68 other universities are set to take part in the action.
Changes to the USS structure are expected to help deal with the estimated £8 billion deficit in the £41.6 billion scheme. But the UCU has claimed that the figures used are “dodgy” and “misleading”, attacking the statistical methodology.
In another dispute over salary, the UCU and UNISON, the union representing support staff including receptionists, shop assistants and cleaners, are joining together to call for a Living Wage for hourly paid staff.
Currently the University has almost as many hourly paid staff as permanent staff, numbering over 2000 employees. UNISON claims that of the 80 job titles listed on the University’s casual pay scales – which represent 90% of those on an hourly wage – 28 pay less than the Living Wage of £7.85.
Joe Raymont, UNISON’s Young Members Officer at the University of Bath says, “We have a Vice Chancellor who is paid in excess of £380,000 per year. To put that in perspective that is approximately £180 per hour. It would take the Vice Chancellor just over a week at work to lap up that £9,000 that you are paying per year in tuition fees.
“However, with no hint of irony, she will profess that to pay all students and other casual workers a living wage would cost too much money”
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