Cambridge UCU members engaged in weeks of strikes over pay and working conditions in FebruaryJoe Cook

Concerns have been raised by the Graduate Union, Cambridge’s University and College Union branch (CUCU) and Cambridge Defend Education (CDE) about the “unpalatable options” outlined by Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope if the reduction in the University’s income continues, in an email to all staff and students on May 21st

The options outlined by Toope include a possible “review of staff pay that might include temporary pay freezes and voluntary pay reductions”. 

The debate comes in an academic year which has seen University staff take strike action on two occasions over pay and working conditions. 

Toope’s email also follows a joint statement issued to Varsity in April describing predicted losses for the colleges until the start of Michaelmas term of an “immediate loss in income of about £35 million” and a loss of £25 million in dining and conferences. 

In the same statement, it was explained that colleges are participating in the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and have “committed to pay 100 per cent of staff salaries to those who go on leave for the time being”. 

In response to Toope’s email, a release from the Graduate Union urged that “workers should not bear the brunt of the costs of this pandemic” particularly as a “pay freeze would impact the lowest-paid, including earlier career academics, most severely”. 

The statement continues that “the wages offered to many are already far too low, and this announcement comes at a time when the position of many in the University is more precarious than ever”. 

In an email sent to CUCU members on May 21st, branch co-secretaries, Suzanne Hakenbeck and Ted Tregear described Toope’s outlined “unpalatable options” as a “list of horrors”. 

The email also expressed frustration at the “painful and regressive” possible measures given what CUCU members “have done over the last eight weeks to adapt to the current circumstances and alleviate the impact of the lockdown on students” despite the current “stressful and anxious circumstances”. 

Following a CUCU meeting on May 24th, the Executive Committee released a statement about the “unjustified” options outlined by the Vice-Chancellor which could cause “a serious erosion in working conditions for Cambridge University staff”. 

CUCU voiced the opinion that “no jobs need to be lost” and that the “Cambridge UCU branch opposes the announced cuts”. 

The statement furthers that by “all objective measures” the University is in an “enviable financial position”. It also describes that although the University holds financial reserves “worth more than £5 billion” staff wages and salaries account for “just 31% of expenditure”, falling from 35% in 2011. 

CUCU hopes that the University “instead of announcing cuts to save money on the backs of the most vulnerable and casualised workers” will start with those earning the highest salaries.

CDE commented that “if there are ‘voluntary pay reductions’, they must come from the 8 members of management who earn over £2.1 million a year between them”.

The Graduate Union similarly stated that it would be “more reasonable”  to cut the “salaries of the 35 members of University senior leadership who earnt more than 150k [sic] in 2019 or their outsized benefits, rather than targeting the least well off.” 

At the beginning of this year, analysis from The Tab  revealed that from the University’s Financial Report Toope is the third-highest paid Vice-Chancellor in the country, earning £475,000 between 2018 and 2019.


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CDU, in response to the Vice-chancellor’s email, stated they now look forward to “the announcement that Toope’s own salary will be reduced from the current bloated £475,000 a year in order to keep his staff paid and employed in a time of crisis”. 

Cambridge UCU branch co-secretaries, in their email to members on May 21st, noted the “strikingly absent” consideration of a pay cut for the Vice-Chancellor, who has a salary at “12 times the median of his staff”. 

The Graduate Union raised the issue that “the austerity measures proposed by the Vice-Chancellor would also widen the gender pay gap of the University and other staff inequalities, as it is more commonly women, BME or disabled people who are the least well paid”.

The Graduate Union contend that the “staff inequalities” arising from Toope’s proposed measures go “against the principles behind the two UCU strikes” which the Union supported. 

As of publication the University has not responded to Varsity's request for comment.

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