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Higher Education (Collective Bargaining)

Volume 986: debated on Wednesday 18 June 1980

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4.18 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish the statutory requirement for all higher educational institutions to be parties to the decisions of the Central Council for University Non-Teaching Staffs and its functional committees, and for connected purposes.
The Bill has a simple objective—to improve collective bargaining for university manual workers and end the appalling wages paid to some of those 31,000 workers. The wage rates of some manual workers in universities and colleges of higher education are a national disgrace. At a number of Oxford university colleges manual workers receive only £26·80, before deductions, for a 40-hour week. That cannot be allowed to continue. Beneath the dreaming spires of Oxford there is poverty and distress, brought about by the attitude of some employers. It is time that we took action.

The Bill contains two main clauses. The first states that all universities and colleges in the higher education sector should have a statutory requirement laid on them to abide by the terms and conditions agreed by the Central Council for University Non-Teaching Staffs, particularly the sub-committee dealing with manual workers. Under the Bill they would not be forced to become members of the UCNS, but would have to abide by its provisions.

The second major clause provides that exception shall be made so that universities and colleges of higher education that are paying above the national rate of pay shall not be obliged to reduce those rates of pay to the rates made by UCNS. Indeed, there is provision already in the UCNS agreement for the protection of existing rates of pay that are higher than those negotiated nationally.

The Bill in no way undermines or affects the position of teaching staff in universities, who have their own national agreement and their own collective bargaining arrangements. Most universities in this country are either members of the UCNS system or pay rates of pay to their manual workers which are above the rates paid by the consortium members.

Examples of universities that pay above the rates are Newcastle, Nottingham and Leicester.

The UCNS rate is £54·75 a week. That is after the Clegg Commission findings were implemented by the universities and colleges. That is for group A, the lowest grade of manual workers.

This is where we come to the nub of the problem. If we compare the 136·8p an hour paid under the UCNS rate with some of the rates of pay in Oxford and Cambridge colleges, for example, we find the most gross and unfair disparity. For example, at New College, Oxford, which educated the Secretary of State for the Environment, a kitchen porter working for 30 hours gets £36·60 gross, and £29·95 net. The kitchen porter has just had six hours of his wage entitlement cut, because the college is no longer paying him for meal breaks.

At Balliol college, Oxford, which educated the Lord Privy Seal, scouts who work for 24 hours get, in gross terms, £28·92 a week, and part-time workers are paid even less as an hourly rate. At Somerville college, Oxford, which educated our dearly beloved Prime Minister, the hourly rate payable to manual workers is 120p. At St. Hugh's college, Oxford, another women's college, the hourly rate is 117p.

At St. Anne's college, Oxford, the current hourly rate is only 102p. This was the subject of a ruling by the Central Arbitration Committee in January 1980. An application was made through the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service to the CAC by my own union, the National Union of Public Employees, under schedule 11 to the Employment Protection Act 1975. It was a case that could not be resolved through the conciliation services of ACAS.

The defence that was put up by St. Anne's college of the wage rates that were being paid by it at that time was, first, that no account ought to be taken by the CAC—or indeed, anybody else—of wage rates paid outside Oxford university. Its second line of defence was quite extraordinary. It argued that its wage rate of 102p an hour was substantially higher than the wage rate paid by many of the 31 colleges in Oxford university.

St. Anne's college produced evidence to the CAC—which is reported in the findings on page 5 of the CAC report—that catering staff in the 31 Oxford colleges had wage rates ranging from 67p an hour to 115p an hour; that wage rates for domestics ranged from 68·5p an hour to 137p an hour; and that these rates were effective from May 1979.

These figures, for a 40-hour week, produce a gross weekly wage of £26·80, which is absolutely absurd. That is why the Bill has been introduced. We simply canot allow these kinds of poverty wage rates to continue in operation.

It must be remembered that these are not simply figures that I have produced, or that a trade union has produced; these figures were quoted to the Central Arbitration Committee by the employers in defence of their own position. That is the most astonishing admission of all.

The CAC findings stated :
"We find that the rates paid by St. Anne's to its ancilliary staff do not fall outside the range of rates observed by other employers in similar circumstances."
I had intended to refer to the financial position of some of the Oxford colleges that I have mentioned. Unfortunately, after inquiries were made by the House of Commons Library to the Oxford colleges concerned some weeks ago, the Oxford colleges were so remiss that they did not post the information to the House of Commons Library until Monday of this week, and then they sent it by second-class post. For that reason I am unable to quote the financial position of those colleges.

But I am concerned not only with Oxford. There are great problems at Cambridge. Colleges at Cambridge that pay below the UCNS nationally agreed rates are Magdalene, where the Secretary of State for Defence was educated; Jesus college, where the Chief Secretary to the Treasury was educated; and Trinity college, which boasts three members of the Cabinet as former students—the Secretary of State for Trade, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Wales. All those colleges pay below the UCNS national rates.

No doubt there are other colleges and institutions throughout the country at which such scandalous rates of pay are being paid by reactionary employers.

The Bill is necessary for several reasons. The first is that the Government have seen fit to abolish schedule 11 to the Employment Protection Act. By so doing they have made it impossible for any employees of universities such as those I have quoted to take action against their employers under schedule 11 to the Employment Protection Act and to try to obtain improvements in wages through that mechanism.

As we have already seen, one group of employees at an Oxford college tried to do that, and the employees were fobbed off by the CAC. That is one major reason why the legislation is clearly necessary.

The second major reason why the legislation is necessary is related to the two-faced attitude of the colleges themselves. Colleges deny the possibility of paying nationally agreed rates of pay to manual workers, but they agree to pay nationally agree rates of pay to clerical staff in universities, to university lecturers and to technicians.

Many employees at Oxford and Cambridge universities are in such a state about their own employers and the way in which they are treating them that they are unwilling to come forward and speak out publicly on these questions.

The last and perhaps most important reason why the Bill is absolutely necessary relates to a mistake that was made by the Clegg Commission. In a letter dated 24 April 1980 to the national officer of NUPE, Mr. Rodney Bickerstaffe, Professor Clegg stated :
" At the time that we were dealing with the reference concerning university manual workers, the Commission was under the impression that the manual employees of Oxford and Cambridge were included in the reference … had the Commission been aware that the college employees were not covered, we would have expressed the hope that the colleges would apply the rates recommended for university employees."
That is the case for the Bill. There is a strong case for abolishing the poverty wage rates that are being paid by reactionary employers, and it is about time the House did something about it, because the CAC cannot do anything about it and the Government have abolished schedule 11. We must take action in this House to defend the interests of these very poorly paid people.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Reg Race, Mr. Arthur Bottomley, Mr. Roland Moyle, Dr. David Clark, Mr. Peter Hardy, Mr Tom Pendry, Mr. Ted Leadbitter, Mr. Ronald W. Brown, Mr. Robert Litherland, Mr. Bob Cryer, Mr. Jack Straw and Mr. Andrew F. Bennett.

Higher Education (Collective Bargaining)

Mr. Reg Race accordingly presented a Bill to establish the statutory requirement for all higher educational institutions to be parties to the decisions of the Central Council for University Non-Teaching Staffs and its functional committees, and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 4 July and to be printed. [Bill 224.]