Sunderland College staff to strike over proposed pay cuts

Staff at Sunderland College are striking over a row concerning their pay.

The University and College Union (UCU) said the dispute relates to proposals to cut the salaries of more than 150 lecturers by £10,000 and downgrade 70 per cent of its teaching workforce to inferior pay grades – with staff seeing a 25 to 30 per cent drop in their salary. This would breach nationally-agreed pay scales according to the Union.

In March the College announced it needed to save £2.26m in 2012/13 due to government funding cuts and that 36 people would be made redundant. It also stated that the cuts would mean it needed to review job descriptions for all teaching staff.

Since March it has been consulting employees about ways to make savings. Only pay cuts and redundancies are being put forward according to the Union, but the College disputes this. It said that these are the initial proposals that have been put on the table for discussion and that there are other suggestions.

Nine out of ten members of the UCU voted to take strike action and over three-quarters backed action short of a strike, which would see members working to contract and not fulfilling the other duties they take on in addition to their contracted work.  The Union expects 250 people to take part.

Nobody wants to take strike action but members will not sit by while their pay and conditions are attacked”

Angela O’Donoghue, principal of Sunderland College, said: “The College is looking at lots of different ways to save money and cutting lecturers’ pay is just one of them – we want to work with the unions, not against them.”

The principal stated that the College is also “committed to working with unions to reduce the need for compulsory redundancies through a programme of voluntary redundancies.”

She added: “All proposals put forward are a starting point and talks are on-going. We want to work in a positive way with the unions to mitigate the impact on individuals.”

The Union is angry because they believe staff are shouldering too much of the burden.

They point to agency staff as an area where savings could be made, as they say that the College spent £2 million on this in the last financial year.

In response, Ms O’Donoghue stated: “All colleges have to turn to specialists in some fields as they do not have the necessary skills in their own teams, for example IT experts, architects and designers. In addition we do need to use the flexibility of agency staffing to cover sickness absence and other short term programmes were funding is provided on an adhoc basis.

“This is normal practice for colleges and for all professional businesses, however as part of the College’s strategic plan we aim to reduce these costs.”

UCU regional official, Iain Owens, said: “Nobody wants to take strike action but members will not sit by while their pay and conditions are attacked in this punitive way. The college cannot afford to dismiss this result and should be looking to work with us instead of finding excuses to deliver teaching on the cheap.

“Breaching nationally agreed pay scales is not in the long-term interest of the institution. It will succeed only in destroying morale and deterring the best and the brightest from wanting to come and work at a college where they will be paid far less than the national average.”