The fight over national pay bargaining at London South Bank University

In this article Dr. Adrian Budd from the Faculty of Arts & Humanities at London South Bank University (LSBU) and UCU Branch Secretary outlines why LSBU UCU activists have voted overwhelimingly for strike action. He runs through the arguments why local bargaining means wors working conditions and why and how trade unionists should stand up to bullying management.

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UCU members at London South Bank University (LSBU) have voted overwhelmingly for industrial action in defence of national pay bargaining. In the ballot that closed Wednesday 15 June 70% voted for strike action and 90% for action short of a strike.

The background to the ballot will hold no surprises to anyone familiar with the attacks on UK education over recent years. At the beginning of 2010 LSBU management announced that it was withdrawing from national pay bargaining. It has remained outside since. As a consequence, both the 2009-10 pay rise and (so far non-agreed) 2010-11 rise have been withheld. LSBU staff have thus had their pay frozen for nearly three years – hardly a demonstration of the advantages for staff that LSBU management claim for local pay bargaining.

In February this year management made a local offer of a 1% pay rise. That offer goes to the heart of the problem of local pay bargaining. Not only is the offer risible in the context of an extended pay freeze and inflation of 5%, but it comes with neo-liberal strings. It is conditional on the LSBU unions (UCU, UNISON, and GMB) accepting what management euphemistically calls a revised appraisal scheme. In reality, the revisions turn appraisal into performance management, a necessary step towards the performance related pay that senior management figures are strongly committed to.

LSBU UCU members are well aware that LSBU management, along with others in HE, is colluding with the government’s insistence that ordinary people bear the burden of an economic crisis they had no part in causing. Money, however, is only one consideration.

  • Withdrawal from national pay bargaining by Further Education employers has been disastrous for staff. Salaries have fallen markedly in real terms and are now 10% lower than in schools, contact hours have risen hugely, stress and bullying are rife, and casualisation is endemic – nearly half of lecturers are part-time and only the catering industry is more casualised than FE.
  • Local pay bargaining is a recipe for pay discrimination and a threat to the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. To ensure that local pay deals are equal pay proofed requires that equal pay audits are conducted at appropriate stages of negotiations and before implementation. This is enormously time-consuming, for both employer and unions.
  • Local bargaining requires greater HR expertise and staff-side investment of time. When local pay bargaining was introduced into the NHS 1995 NHS Trust managers soon complained that it absorbed the time of staff better employed treating patients. Local bargaining was quickly ended.
  • Local pay determination can cause disparities and discontent amongst staff. After rail privatisation, major pay disparities developed and with them serious driver shortages in many parts of the country. Different standards on equality issues between companies also followed. The danger for a university seen as a maverick employer, or as one paying below the national norm, is that it will not be able to recruit appropriate staff.
  • Local pay bargaining is management’s lever for the imposition of performance management (PM) and performance related pay (PRP). LSBU management has chosen to pursue PM/PRP despite the evidence that they undermine collaborative team-working, pit colleague against colleague, are hopelessly inefficient and contain a dangerous potential for discrimination and bullying. They promote the sort of culture of compliance that existed at Enron, where staff feared criticising the accounting practices that they knew spelled disaster. This runs counter to the ethos of critical enquiry and management accountability that should exist in a university and public institution. It is also fundamentally corrosive of staff morale.

Understanding the issues is one thing, finding the spirit to fight another. There is no doubt among LSBU activists that the spirit of the student struggles since last autumn, and the struggles in the Arab world since January, have had a positive effect at LSBU. On the 24 March strike against attacks on our pensions we had the biggest and liveliest pickets for over a decade. This, in turn, generated the momentum for a very large branch meeting at which we were finally able to convince the UCU officials that the branch was ready to fight. LSBU’s struggle offers a convincing demonstration of the inter-dependence of local, national and international struggle.

About educationactivistnetwork
The education activist network provides national coordination for trade unionists, academics, university workers and student campaigners fighting to defend jobs and education in the UK.

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