Saturday, 24 September 2011

Update on Senate House London Living Wage and Sick Pay Campaign

Many apologies - I meant to post a recap of developments in the London Living Wage campaign at Senate House, and have just not got round to it. So here goes.

The demonstration on September 14 was a great success, attended by around a hundred staff, workers and students (particularly impressive outside term time), and addressed by MPs John McDonnell and Frank Dobson (as well, of course, as our local branch chair Tony Mabbott).

Many thanks to all the University of London staff who gave up their lunchtimes to attend - this was much appreciated by all the directly affected workers concerned.

The University of London chose to close access to the cloisters from the Russell Square car-park, but I'm sure the prospective students arriving for their open day gained a pretty clear idea of some of the issues likely to be affecting their University careers.

The University also sent senior management to address organisers, as well as producing a leaflet affirming their commitment to payment of the LLW.

Unfortunately, their current position still sems to be that the LLW will be introduced by July 2012. There is no timetable for this, no guarantee that jobs and hours-worked will be protected, no explanation of how wage differentials will be maintained, no acceptance of the year-on-year LLW ladder, no mention of the cost of providing sick-pay, and no figures.

Despite frequent requests by the Senate House UNISON branch, and promises on behalf of the University, no costings have been provided as evidence for claims that it would be impossible for the University to introduce the LLW now.

Unfortunately, our members (cleaners, porters, postroom workers, caterers, security guards) earning below the £8.30 per hour which has been agreed independently as being the mimimum wage to live in London have lost faith in unsubstantiated promises and delays. We have been asking for the LLW for over a year now, and are now being told it cannot be paid for another year (despite neighbouring institutions now moving into their third year of LLW compliance).

The Senate House London Living Wage and Sick Pay campaign will therefore be holding its next demonstration, to coincide with Freshers week, welcome new students to Bloomsbury, and introduce them to some of the realities of student life, on Monday October 3 outside Senate House. The Senate House Branch of UNISON will be supporting this demonstration, and it would be great to have as many members there in support of our fellow workers.

Friday, 23 September 2011

New College of the Humanities - Déjà Vu from Down Under

An Antipodean comrade writes....

I have had a look at bits and pieces about the NCH on the net, and the parallels with Bond University being founded on its Gold Coast campus in the late-1980s multiply. The sales pitch was pretty much the same: the public universities are not performing so 'we at Bond' will show them how it is done. The aggressive and dismissive demeanour and the OTT public pronouncements of the first Vice-Chancellor were distinctly unhelpful, and quite unnecessary from a PR view of view. Brash arrogance. Bond proclaimed itself the Harvard of the southern hemisphere which would attract all the best students, so it is unsurprising that many academics were antangonised – and the combination the Alan Bond (and especially his financial links with Chile) and a private university was too much for many. The fees were also pretty steep: $1500 per course was a lot of money in those days (the School of Science, whose fees were event higher, attracted so few undergraduate students that it became the Research School of Science). There were also 1st year core courses at Bond. Does all this start to ring a bell?

There were differences. Bond University had its own campus in the suburb of Robina whereas NCH wants to tap into existing infrastructure in London, and I'm alarmed that no agreements are in place. Getting the Bond campus ready in time for the commencement of teaching in March or April 1989 was a nightmare, because of an unusually wet summer -- which underlines the necessity of having the teaching spaces at the ready beforehand – something that could really unsettle NCH unless it gets its shit together. At Bond there was no professoriate-in-absentia: everyone lived locally, or in the vicinity, and fronted to work each day. But the lack of fee-paying students and a misreading of the market and the mood out there resulted in hard times ahead for Bond. I am largely indifferent to NCH, but I'm definitely dubious about its feasability and sustainability. Bond University also started as an 'awfully big adventure' but a basic premise – that Australians would recognise quality and be prepared to pay for it – was unfounded. The place never lived up to its own hype and, from distant observation, I doubt whether NCH will either. It all sounds so familiar to me.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Senate House LLW Demonstration - Wed 14 September

Workers at the University of London will be holding a mass demonstration on Wednesday to demand that the London Living Wage be paid to all university workers. Students, lecturers and staff from universities across London will be joining the protest.

The demonstration will take place from 11.30am in the Senate House carpark (Russell Square side) and is expected to be attended by over a hundred workers and supporters. Labour MPs Frank Dobson and John McDonnell are both scheduled to speak.

Organised by UNISON with the workers concerned, and supported by UCU, London Citizens, and the National Union of Students, as well as many London-based NGOs and MPs, the Senate House London Living Wage and Sick Pay Campaign calls on the University of London to implement the full £8.30 wage, backdated to 1 September 2011, and introduce full sick pay for all workers. The cleaners are sub-contracted to Balfour Beatty Workplace, part of the multinational construction company which had a 32% rise in profits in 2010, while the caterers are employed by the massive US company Aramark, 189th on the Fortune 500 list.

The London Living Wage, supported by Mayor Boris Johnson, is an independently assessed wage which reflects the minimum required to live above the poverty line in London. The wage currently stands at £8.30 an hour, and is paid by all the surrounding colleges of the University of London, including SOAS, Birkbeck, LSE, and the Institute of Education. In contrast, the cleaners working for the central University are paid just £6.15 an hour, and receive no sick pay beyond the statutory minimum. University College London committed to paying the Living Wage to all employees after their unethical employment practices were exposed by the Evening Standard.

Thursday, 1 September 2011


If any workers employed either directly by the University or any of its contractors, decide to take unlawful strike action, then we as a Branch cannot condone the action, as it will not have been called in accordance with industrial action legislation.

We do, however, fully sympathise with the immense frustration many staff feel after months of unresolved problems over pay, which have placed a number of workers in serious financial hardship. We would also not be surprised if the fact that employees do not receive the London Living Wage has played a large part in the decision of individuals to resort to such action - many staff employed at the University of London are paid only three quarters of the going rate for the same job at neighbouring institutions.

We support the continued struggle of such employees to be paid a London living wage, in full and on time for the work that they do.

We are pleased by the decision of BBW not to take disciplinary action against those participating and will continue to work with BBW to resolve any outstanding individual and collective disputes as a matter of urgency.

UNISON Senate House Branch

Find more UNISON news on: