Staff threaten industrial action at University of Portsmouth 

University of Portsmouth workers on strike in 2016    Picture: Miles O'Leary
University of Portsmouth workers on strike in 2016 Picture: Miles O'Leary

AS STUDENTS prepare to return to university after their summer break there has been a warning over potential disruption due to industrial action.

The University and College Union is to ballot more than 80,000 members over disputes relating to rates of pay and salary disparity with senior staff.

UCU regional representative Dr James Hicks

UCU regional representative Dr James Hicks

Members have decided to ballot for action after a final pay offer of two per cent was put forward by regulatory body the Universities and Colleges’ Employers Association.

Portsmouth professor and regional union representative, Dr James Hicks, said: ‘The current pay offer is two per cent. Historically, taking inflation into account, our pay has fallen by 19.3 per cent since the aftermath of the financial crisis.

‘We are requesting a pay rise which reflects the real terms pay decrease since 2009. We are looking for at least 7.5 percent which is well above the current pay offer.’

University staff in Portsmouth went on strike in 2016 over a pay offer of 1.1 per cent, also slating the fact that vice-chancellors had received an average rise of 6.1 per cent..

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, added: ‘The pay offers do nothing to address years of decline in the value of our members’ pay and have left us with no option but to ballot for strike action.’

The UCU highlighted that in addition to the rise in the cost of living a key issue for members is the ‘pay comparison with those at the top.’

Ms Hunt claimed: ‘Staff working at our colleges and universities have had enough of seeing their wages held down while some principals and vice chancellors receive double digit pay rises and max out expense accounts.’

‘My belief is that there appears to be a move towards an increased greed at the very top with a ‘me me me’ culture,’ added Dr Hicks.

A key are of concern for Dr Hicks is how such pay rises are awarded and regulated.

 ‘At the very top positions the pay is set by the board of governors. The difficulty is that board of governors don’t answer to anyone.’

There are no shareholders. When one person leaves new members are self-appointed by other members of the governing body. At some universities proposed new members are vetted by the vice chancellor – this is interesting as that person will then go and set the vice chancellors pay,’ explained Dr Hicks. 

The ballot for members is due to take place on Thursday, October 18 and Friday, October 19 with universities including Portsmouth, Southampton, Winchester and Southampton Solent all set to be affected.

Dr Hicks added that the initial ballot was to decide whether industrial action will take place and that nothing as yet has been finalised as to what that action might be.