Lambeth College poised for indefinite strike — again

Indefinite strike action could be set to hit Lambeth College for the second time in eight months, after unions unveiled plans to walk out in a continuing row over staff contracts.

The University and College Union (UCU) has released a timetable of escalating one, two and three-day strikes starting next week, culminating in an open-ended strike from Monday, January 19.

Its members walked out for five weeks beginning in June over plans to introduce contracts for new staff, which the union says would leave teachers with longer working hours and less annual leave and sick pay — returning three days before the summer holidays.

Una O’Brien, UCU regional official, said: “The situation at Lambeth College is now very clear and the management cannot be in any doubt at how angry staff are about the new contracts.

“We hope that strike action, which will certainly mean major disruption again at Lambeth, won’t be necessary. The college needs to sit down with us to talk through changes to staff contracts and work towards finding a solution staff are happy with.”

The new contracts at the centre of the row offer 50 days a year annual leave — 10 days fewer than that given to existing staff.

However, Lambeth principal Mark Silverman has said the terms of the contract, introduced from April 1, were “in line with sector norms”.

He said they were part of the college’s recovery plan following financial deficits of £4.1m in 2012/13 and £3.5m last year.

Mr Silverman said: “I’m disappointed that UCU are calling members out on strike when their own representatives are, in negotiations with the College, increasingly accepting of the current situation where we have two contracts co-existing.”

A strike ballot which opened on September 22 was shelved early the next month while the union considered an “improved offer” from the college, where existing staff would stay on the original contract until September 2017, or accept a £1,500 “cash incentive” to transfer to the new contract.

However, in the latest ballot, the results of which were announced last week, 66 UCU members voted to strike, from a turnout of 80 members from a staff of 250.

The first strike is expected to take place on Thursday, December 4, for one day, followed by a two-day strike on December 9 and 10 and a three-day strike is scheduled for December 15, 16 and 17.

Following Christmas, a two-day strike is planned on January 7 and 8, with three days of striking on January 13, 14 and 15 before the indefinite strike is set to begin on January 17.

A UCU spokesperson said: “We have welcomed a commitment from the college that it will not impose the new contracts on staff employed before April 2014.

“However, the union remains unhappy with the two-tier employment structure the contracts have produced and wants the new contract removed or a fresh one drawn up with its agreement.”

Mr Silverman said: “We have given strong assurances over the last year that the new contract is for new staff, and that we will not be imposing it on existing staff, and I’m pleased that UCU are now acknowledging this.

“We have launched a voluntary scheme where existing staff can transfer to the new contract and accept the incentives that UCU declined last month.

“A good number of staff have already made the transfer, and staff still have a further six weeks to volunteer.

“With staff transferring to the new contract voluntarily, UCU more accepting of both the two-contract status and the college’s assurance of not imposing changes, and such a low turnout on the ballot, one has to wonder what further strike action hopes to achieve.

“Our focus now is to manage the strike effectively and ensure that our learners are not disrupted.

“We plan to keep the college open and functioning throughout further industrial action.

“We will focus on supporting our learners, and we are absolutely determined that we will not allow them to be disrupted.”