Strike is off – but pay issue remains

UNISON members in Solent University recently received the outcome of the national pay ballot. Like colleagues throughout the country, Solent staff had been asked to reject the pay offer of 2% for most staff  and vote for strike action to win a fair deal.

Unfortunately, although UNISON members voted to take strike action, anti-trade union legislation introduced by the current government prevented them from doing so.

This is why, to help underline the increase in work poverty and the red tape that prevented UNISON from fighting back, UNISON at Solent University organised a food bank collection as part of the Grovember recruitment drive. The goal was simple – to do a good thing and
provide help to those who need it whilst underlining that so many of those who were supported by food banks were actually in work.
Against a back drop of steadily increasing food bank referrals, between April and September 2018, 30.71% of referrals to Trussell Trust food banks were due to low income.

The decline in real earnings for higher education staff like those at Solent University is equally real. Between 2009 and 2017, inflation (measured as RPI) increased 28.1%. Pay in the same period across the sector only went up 8.8%. The cost of living got higher as the
value for every pound in the pay packet dropped – meaning a real terms pay cut.

Ann Jones, UNISON steward at Solent University said:

Professional support staff at Solent University play a key role in improving the student experience – which is vital in this era of high tuition fees. This should be recognised by pay increases that at a minimum keep up with the cost of living.

Branch Secretary Hayley Garner agreed:

Our partnership with Southampton City Mission’s Basics Bank highlights this branch’s strong belief that we are not just important in the workplace. Trade Unions are vital elements of the community at large and we strive to help wherever we can. In-work poverty rates mean that some of our members will be using those food banks this winter, and this is another way we can work to support them.

It was against this decline in living standards that higher education staff across the country voted to say that another year of below inflation pay rises wasn’t good enough – but were still legally prevented from defending their living standards.

How the law works is as simple as it is undemocratic. As well as getting a majority of votes for strike action, UNISON has to get an overall turnout of 50%. If less than half of those able to vote do so, the ballot is void. This means that not voting is more powerful than simply
voting no – at least if the majority vote no, then that is a democratic decision made by UNISON members.

But not voting doesn’t always equate to being against taking action. There’s plenty of reasons why members might not vote – we all lead busy lives and it’s easy to forget to return the postal ballot, for example. This is why unions want to be allowed to use e-balloting.

Regardless, not voting helps to take the democratic decision out of the union’s hands and lets legislation decides the outcome. Imagine if parliamentary elections were held according to this logic!

Branch Secretary Hayley Garner explained:

This issue highlights just how the government’s punitive trade union legislation prevents members from acting democratically. Our ballot clearly showed that members want strike action, but legal threats prevent us from taking it any further.

Join UNISON and help us fight for to end in work poverty.