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Employee backlash

Cover story - Only 39% of members voted in the subscriptions ballot. And of the 19,402 members who did voice their opinion, 43% voted against the rise. Was this result really what members wanted?

Nearly two thirds of ICE members chose not to vote on the subs hike.

The reason could be because about a third of subscription costs are met by employers rather than engineers themselves.

But employers are concerned about the rising price of membership: past ICE president and director of consultant Whitby Bird, Mark Whitby says firms may in future make employees carry the cost of ICE membership themselves. 'Ultimately it will influence whether we fund the Institution as much as we have done before, ' he says.

Whitby believes that the £27 per employee rise in subscriptions could be better used by his company to support students through university.

'Overall there's just not enough demonstrable value for money: Are the headquarters doing enough to economise- Are they genuinely showing value for money-' Whitby believes that the increase in the ICE's income required to meet the cost of regionalisation should come from an enlarged membership and fears that the rising subscription rate could backfire by reducing the number of members instead.

'You don't charge people to enter a shop because you want people to come in and browse. As president I reduced the graduate subscription rate to encourage them to join, ' he says.

But Atkins director Bob Haywood believes that companies will continue to pay subscriptions, 'because we know we've got to do it'. Traditional reasons for paying are the training offered by the ICE, the value of Institution meetings and use of the One Great George Street library. Haywood adds: 'There's no point moaning about the subs rise. It's up to us to make more use of the Institution.' When NCE asked 75 members what they most wanted from the ICE, raising the profile of engineers in society came out as the top priority. But concerns about low salaries came a close second (see box).

'The ICE should compare salaries at different levels across other professions, not just engineering and drive a plan to improve the current situation.

The reward for the great majority is still uninviting and frankly laughable compared with many other skill areas, especially in the south east. Civil engineering may be very rewarding in itself, but will not attract the numbers and calibre without financial reward, ' said one NCE reader.

The ICE is not a trade association, so lobbying for an increase in engineers' wages does not fall under its remit.

However, some members are concerned that the impact of low salaries could mean the difference between joining the ICE and joining a 'cheaper' institution.

'I don't think the ICE has any clear idea of the poor pay that most engineers subsist on. If they linked the subscription to the member's take home pay, they would find out exactly what they need to do to encourage more people into the profession, ' said another.

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