4.1 Local bargaining in FE
Low pay in Further Education is an urgent issue. Without a meaningful national bargaining framework, branches have been forced to act locally. The low turnout among FE members in recent NEC elections indicates a collapse of confidence in the union’s ability to fight for them on a national level. This makes the local action which many FE branches are taking against their employers all the more impressive. Members in FE are determined to withstand the systematic onslaughts we have seen to the sector: in terms of funding cuts from government, appalling management of colleges and institutions, the degradation of pay, and slashing of terms and conditions. As a union we have to work even harder to support the current FE fightback, and rebuild the sector.
4.2 HE pay erosion entrenches privilege and threatens the profession
In Higher Education, the union has not taken enough advantage of the national bargaining framework which it has at its disposal. Since the 2016 Trade Union Act imposed a 50% turnout requirement on strike ballots, successive real-terms pay cuts, on their own, have not motivated enough branches to break that threshold. The union has not succeeded in framing pay erosion as an urgent issue, in the way it managed to when the guaranteed element of the USS pension scheme was under threat. But pay erosion is an urgent issue. At a moment when universities are conceding a need to diversify their workforces in the name of equality, suppressed salaries are taking us in the other direction: they are turning both professional services and academic jobs into culturally prestigious but materially unrewarding careers, for privileged people who can afford to ‘take the hit’ of a low salary.
Staff from affluent backgrounds benefit disproportionately from their ability to soak up the pressure of low pay before progressing to higher grades. They win the early-career rat race, while staff without independent means find their academic achievements unrewarded. This must be part of the reason why the sector has made so little progress to reduce the gender pay gap, not to mention the severe, but still not properly quantified, ethnicity pay gap. Weighting pay claims even more decisively in favour of low-paid staff will go some of the way towards addressing this. Just as importantly, it will send out a message to all of our members that low pay is a moral and social stain on our professions, as well as a source of personal precarity and financial hardship.