Unite members at the Royal College of Art (RCA) stood proudly on picket lines on Wednesday (June 22) as they took strike action for fair pay.
They are currently taking industrial action over an imposed 1.5 per cent pay deal for 2021/22 – amounting to a huge pay cut at time when the retail price index (RPI) measure of inflation is running at nearly 12 per cent. They have also voiced anger over a London Weighting freeze that has lasted almost a decade.
RCA workers’ London Weighting – an additional pay entitlement granted to reflect the cost of living in London, one of the most expensive cities in the world – has been frozen at just over £2,500 since 2013. Before then, their London Weighting payment was frozen at just over £2100 for almost a further two decades, since 1992.
Especially now amid the worst cost of living crisis in 40 years, Unite members at RCA have argued that their London Weighting entitlement makes a mockery of the allowance when it in no way even remotely reflects the cost of living in the capital.
Unite believes RCA members’ London Weighting should be increased in line with RPI inflation in the capital, and that an increase to £6,000 a year would take into account the prohibitive housing, living and travel costs in the capital.
Unite RCA members’ anger over their real terms diminishing pay – reflected by a 90 per cent yes vote for strike action — has been further compounded by the fact that the vice-chancellor’s pay package exceeds £300,000.
Unite argues that the RCA is a cash-rich organisation with, according to its 2020/21 annual accounts, a core underlying surplus of £4.6m. It is also had £10.1m in donations and endowments – and so can well afford a pay rise for its staff.
The RCA vice-chancellor Dr Paul Thompson took home a pay and pensions package of £305,000 – his basic pay is 5.9 times the median pay for all college staff.
Dozens of Unite members stood strong at picket lines today at the RCA’s sites in Kensington and Battersea, with an additional rally held at the Kensington campus in the afternoon.
Unite regional officer Andy Murray hailed today’s strike and the members who are taking a brave stand.
“Unite was extremely pleased by the turnout on the picket lines and the rally at the RCA today,” he said. “It showed strong determination from members, who were clearly energised by today’s strike action.
“Our members will have the full and unwavering support of their union in their campaign for fair pay,” Murray added. “We are going to enter into negotiations with the RCA on ways to alleviate the cost of living crisis that members are facing, and it is our hope that these negotiations will be positive. If these negotiations don’t succeed, our members will be looking at taking action again in the autumn.”
Commenting, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham added, “It is a complete disgrace that the RCA has imposed a nine-year incomes freeze on its staff. This Royal College is sitting on a multi-million surplus and the vice-chancellor takes home over £300,000 a year.
“Our members who make the RCA such a success have seen the value of their wages shrink for a decade. They have Unite’s 100 per cent support in their fight for pay justice.”
By Hajera Blagg
Pics by RCA Unite Branch