Ballots close this week in the vote among Unison members in higher education about potential strike action. In this letter, a university admin worker explains why they have been pushed into taking action.
August was our peak time for admissions. September was preparing for the new arrivals. October was the beginning of the academic year. Now I’m shattered.
I get to the office at 8am and start immediately by checking my email. Quite a few things marked ‘urgent’. They go in the ‘deal with it later’ pile anyway. My first priority is to get the money through the door and into the university bank account – sorry, I mean get students onto our exciting course.
Education is a commodity, and the course I admin epitomises that. When we’re not talking about admissions, my team discuss the fancy dinners and the expensive merchandise that our students will be provided with. The proper Oxbridge experience, you know.
Recently a large volume of merchandise was thrown away because the boss decided he didn’t like it. Well, actually it was hidden in the back of a cupboard.
Me and a colleague discussed what we would have done if that money had been split between our small, overstretched admin team, rather than spent on crap that was never even used. The total cost was more than I earn in a month.
Split equally amongst our team, my portion would (nearly) cover a month’s rent. This month I paid rent out of my overdraft. The cost of living in this city is astronomical. Wages haven’t anywhere near kept up.
I’m one of the lucky ones at work. My contract lasts until 2019. Permanent contracts seem to have been abolished. Zero-hours temps are the backbone of the university.
My conditions are quite unique amongst university administrators. All of us have unique conditions. In another department, a colleague of mine had a glass plate thrown at her by the manager. It smashed on the wall behind her head. She never made a complaint – a senior academic is worth much more to the university than a complaining female administrator, after all.
I also have friends in another department who routinely work uncompensated overtime because the department is severely short-staffed and because they are terrified of their manager. A former colleague of mine covered for her sick manager for months – doing all of the extra work, but receiving none of the extra pay, of course.
All unique stories; all one underlying cause: the pressure of cuts and competition on education – and on workers’ wages and conditions in general.
I was severely bullied by management in a previous role at the university. I became extremely depressed and anxious; I couldn’t leave the house. My union rep advised me to resign. I became unemployed.
In my new role, like I said, I’m one of the lucky ones; I don’t face harassment – just low wages and a grinding workload. I adore my colleagues, and – notwithstanding the total pointlessness of our jobs – we make a great team with whom it is a pleasure to work.
But it is too much work for too little pay. We cannot allow conditions like this: a race to the bottom. This is why we must fight back. And we will win.
I can’t wait to go on strike.