This time next week, hundreds of members of teaching and support staff at St Andrews who belong to UCU, Unite and Unison will likely be taking strike action over their pay.
The issue under contention is that UCU says its members have not received a meaningful pay increase since 2008. In fact this equates to a near 13 per cent decrease in pay over the period, since inflation over the past six years has been 12.99 per cent, according to government inflation data.
The one per cent pay rise some staff have been offered is similar to the cap that the government has imposed upon public sector workers since 2010, which is now pegged to continue until 2015/16.
A powerful example of the effect that this type of salary freeze can have upon people was made earlier this year, when a lady named Clare called in to the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2.
Clare was a full-time worker who had had her pay frozen since 2008. Her salary was just above basic pay and she did not qualify for benefits. She lived alone in rented accommodation and paid only her most essential bills, leaving her with just £20 per month to live on. She recounted on the show how last winter she could not afford to turn on the heating despite there being snow on the ground, and how she had to resort to going straight to bed when she returned from work, using candles for light so she did not have to pay extra for electricity. Her daily sustenance was often a single slice of bread, value margarine, and salt and pepper. Her distress was clear throughout her call.
Clare had no dependants, no mortgage and because of her isolation could impose upon herself a minimal heating and lighting bill. Her situation was an extreme example of the effects a pay freeze can visit upon on a person. But imagine the consequences over time of inflicting a similar freeze on our own lecturers and support staff, many of whom may have dependants and mortgages to support as well as themselves. Can you doubt the need for strike action by the unions?
The UCEA, which represents universities as employers and of which St Andrews is a member, has said that “the vast majority of [university] staff understand the reality of the current environment and would not want to take action that could harm their institutions and their students.” But will the real harm to this institution not be the attrition of our world-class tutors and lecturers should they leave to make a liveable wage elsewhere? Or the slow financial suffocation of the technicians, porters and estates staff who keep our University running? Will that not harm us as students?
This newspaper does not have detailed knowledge of staff pay at this institution. We do, however, fully support the strike action of the staff members that will take place on Thursday 31 October – unless an agreement can be reached first. We urge the principal and the University to do whatever can be done to afford the staff members who facilitate our education here the level of pay to which they are entitled.