Members of EI affiliates the AUT and NATFHE are taking strike action today because they say promises to use new money coming into the higher education sector to improve staff pay have been broken.
The unions are angry that universities have not used new government funding to boost pay. In April 2004, the then higher education minister, Alan Johnson, told MPs that vice-chancellors had said that at least one-third of the income generated from tuition fees and extra funding would be ploughed back into academic salaries. The general secretary of NATFHE, Paul Mackney, said yesterday: "Lecturers are demanding that their salary levels are restored to those of comparable professionals. "Vice-chancellors recently paid themselves a 25% increase over three years." Members of the AUT and NATFHE are supported by 124 members of parliament who signed an Early Day Motion on lecturers’ salaries. Roger Kline, head of the universities department at NATFHE, said: "This is a tremendous expression of cross-party support from the whole of the UK. It has surpassed our target of 100 MPs. We have received support from MPs who voted for top-ups and MPs who didn't. I am confident that many MPs believed that some of that new money would be used to improve the pay of all lecturers, but there is still no sign of that. Sadly, our joint union strike action will therefore go ahead." Sally Hunt, AUT general secretary, said: "The MPs' statement is typical of the widespread support we have received in our campaign for fair pay. Lecturers’ pay has declined by 40 per cent in relative terms over the last 20 years. Our claim is sensible, costed and fully merited. Tomorrow’s strike action should not be happening and it is up to the employers to make us an offer now to prevent further widespread disruption." In 2004 even the prime minister, Tony Blair, seemed sympathetic to the lecturer’s plight "The shortfall of teaching funding has badly hit the salaries of academic staff, which have shown practically no increase in real terms over two decades" he said when speaking to Universities UK, 14 January 2004. Tomorrow, lecturers will begin an assessment boycott if a pay deal cannot be reached. Both unions reiterated that any industrial action is a last resort to force employers to take them seriously. "It is unfortunate that students are the ones to suffer," says Bill Beaumont, president of the AUT at Bristol University. "But this is the action that has proved to be effective. The National Union of Students (NUS) is nationally in support of the AUT and NATFHE.