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Pay Award Imposition

Published: 1st March, 2023

UCEA to impose pay “award”

It will have come as a surprise to many UCU members to hear that UCEA, the university employers’ body, have imposed the 2023-2024 pay “award” and are not open to further negotiation with unions in higher education. This came within days of UCEA agreeing a two-week “period of calm” with higher education unions, and UCU agreeing to pause strikes scheduled for late February and early March. We are particularly disappointed that this has been portrayed by our executive as the “highest uplift…in nearly 20 years” when it in fact represents a substantial real-terms pay cut.

It has become a regular occurrence for UCEA to impose pay awards once an impasse has been reached. Something similar happened in the current year’s (2022-2023) pay round, where staff above spine point 20 received a pay “award” of just 3% in conditions of rocketing inflation.

What does the imposition mean?

The overall pay “increase” ranges from 5% to 8%, depending where you currently sit on the pay spine (you can see the current pay spine here.

Here is the breakdown of the “increases” that UCEA is imposing:

  • Spine points 3-5: 8%
  • Spine points 6-14: 7%
  • Spine points 15-25: 6%
  • Spine points 26 and above: 5%

For context, teaching fellows are often appointed around spine point 31, lecturers around 39.

Some of the “increase” will be paid early—starting from February 2023—the rest from August 2023, when the new pay rates would normally begin. The imposition of UCEA’s award means that:

  • From February 2023 your pay will be at a rate that reflects an annual increase of 2%—or an annual increase of £1,000 if a 2% increase is less than £1,000.
  • The small increase will not actually be paid to you in the pay packet you receive in your bank account at the end of February. The first increased payment, the February one, will be included in the pay packet you receive at the end of March. So don’t be surprised if your March pay is a little higher than expected, and drops back a bit in April.
  • From August 2023, the rest of increase will be added. So, if your pay went up 2% from February, and is due to rise 5%, you’ll get the rest of the 3% increase then.

A real-terms pay cut

As UCU has pointed out, this “award” represents a significant real-terms pay cut. Over the current year (2022-2023) and next (2023-2024) real terms pay is likely to fall by approximately 15%. This is because of the rate of inflation and the resulting cost of living crisis.

As a rough illustrative calculation, if you are a lecturer near the bottom of Grade 8, your monthly take-home pay will initially go up by around £50; in August 2023 it will go up around £70 more. However, the average rise in energy costs from April is expected to be around £75 per household each month. Food prices for the average household have risen by a monthly average of around £50 in the past year. These kind of price increases mean that, in real terms, our incomes will fall heavily.

To put it another way, if your pay went up with the current rate of inflation (on the RPI measure UCU uses), the take-home pay increase for a lecturer near the bottom of grade 8 would be around £315 each month, not the £120 or so we’ve been “awarded” by UCEA.

Wrong Priorities

UCEA have decided to impose this pay “award”, claiming its member universities could not afford for pay to keep up with living costs. In other words, you are being asked to act as human shock-absorbers to ensure universities’ continued financial wellbeing.

This is not necessary. Not only are universities across Britain sitting on £3.4 billion in reserves. They are also preparing to undertake £4.6 billion on capital expenditure, according to UCU’s research.

The University of Leicester alone spent an average of £51.7 million each year on estates and infrastructure over the past five years. This level of annual expenditure is more than enough to increase every staff member’s salary by 15% at the University of Leicester, without dipping into the university’s surpluses. Prioritising estate over staff is having a disastrous impact on the conditions under which we work—not to mention the conditions under which our students learn.

What Now?

UCEA have said they will not negotiate further over pay. Our best hope of changing their minds is through the threat of continued strike action, along with industrial action short of a strike.

That means building for the six days of strike action now scheduled to start from 15 March and voting in the reballot of UCU members currently taking place to obtain a new mandate. We should use the strikes from mid-March to show UCEA what we think of their pay “award”. With the resumption of strikes, we will relaunch our local strike committee to ensure that UCU members are able to collectively steer our action and discuss the issues it poses for our union.

There are ongoing talks about the other issues in our dispute with UCEA, such as the gender pay gap, workload and casualisation. While an apparent commitment from UCEA to urge members to stop using zero-hours contracts is welcome, this is not a central issue at the University of Leicester, where use of such contracts is negligible, and other forms of casualisation, such as fixed-term contracts, are far more widespread. We need to maintain the pressure to ensure serious, binding commitments are made on these issues.

Meanwhile, in our other dispute on pensions, in which UCU is in dispute with a separate employers’ body, Universities UK, we have been told that progress is being made. It has been clear for some time that the cuts to the USS pension scheme are unjustified and unjustifiable. The scheme is now massively in surplus. We need to maintain the pressure to ensure that universities cannot wriggle out of fully restoring our benefits.

We urge all our members to vote yes in the reballot and to continue to fight over pay, conditions and pensions.