Anthony O’Hanlon, the President of Liverpool UCU, explains why campus unions at Liverpool have come together to campaign for a 1:6 pay ratio that will help redistribute funds from senior management to casualised staff. He argues that a wider challenge to the logic of marketisation is necessary if we are to transfer higher education for the benefit of all staff and students.
Between May and 31 July 2020, 606 fixed term contracts will expire at the University of Liverpool. The financial impact of the current crisis will impact universities in differing ways and on different scales but the current approach from employers in response to the challenges they face is uniform: to cut casualised staff and propose a wide range of schemes that erode terms and conditions which are presented as a financial necessity.
UCU branches across the Higher Education sector are currently fighting to save the precarious jobs which our employers actively created to be dispensable for these purposes. Sustained industrial action has been taken in the fight back against precariously employment but due to the impact of COVID we are now in a position where we are fighting simply to preserve the status quo of maintaining the carousel of casualisation by demanding temporary contracts are renewed.
The intransigent position currently taken by our employer to refuse to collectively consult with the campus trade unions shines greater light on an exploitative business model. Depressing and disingenuous claims of ‘business as usual’ show a sector that is much more committed to a marketisation agenda than it is protecting colleagues during a global pandemic.
This doomed, marketised model cannot continue and it is up to UCU branches with their sister campus unions to present radical alternatives and bring about a university that acts in the interests of staff and students.
At the University of Liverpool, the UCU, UNISON and UNITE branches have presented a number of demands as part of a ‘Defend All Jobs’ campaign.
One of the key demands as part of this is the introduction of a 1:6 pay ratio. This would result in a maximum wage at Liverpool of £100,000 per year for all core funded staff. Various institutions, including Liverpool have spoken about their Vice Chancellor taking a voluntary reduction in pay in light of the crisis – a 50% reduction would still see a salary of over £200,000 in this particular instance. It is important to make clear that this is not simply about VC pay as shocking as it is. Within each institution there is likely to be a year-on-year increase of incredibly well paid management.
Opposition to this policy has centred on the financial threat the University faces. The University responded to our campaign demands in a communication to all staff by claiming that the cost to extend all expired and expiring contracts would be around £2.5m. The saving identified by our Branch if this ratio is introduced? Roughly £3.5m, leaving a cool million in change. It does not take an economist to realise this is a cost effective step to protect jobs and the local economy. It may also go some way to balancing out the top heavy managerialism in universities. A recent staff survey at the university found perceptions of senior management is in dire need of improvement.
Spurious claims of such a policy being an attack on workers’ rights have also been put forward by a tiny number of those who fall into this category of earners. It is highly unlikely any future E.P. Thompsons will seek to rescue the poor Pro Vice Chancellor from the enormous condescension of posterity. This is a redistributive move which would still see all of the staff in this category sitting comfortably within the top 5% of earners in the UK while going some way toward addressing pay inequality.
Implementing such a policy in isolationwill not solve the crisis institutions face and the campus unions at Liverpool are under no illusion of this but it is an immediate step which can be taken to ensure colleagues are not thrown on to the scrapheap during a pandemic.
A comprehensive alternative to the marketised model which puts an end to vanity projects, excessive spending on capital developments and an obsession with perpetual growth of student intake numbers, such as the Manifesto for Resistance in COVID Times need to be further engaged with and developed for all of those who wish to transform the Higher Education sector.