Strike threat looms as pay talks resume

The prospect of industrial action looms over FE after the University and Colleges Union (UCU) backed a call to ballot for a national strike.

At their national conference on Wednesday, union members agreed to the ballot if upcoming pay talks fell through.

The motion described college employers as “making a historic bid to drive down the value of our pay and erode our terms and conditions of service”.

It backed a strike ballot being held close to the beginning of October if pay talks scheduled for this month resulted in an unsatisfactory offer.

Talks ended in stalemate last month when the Association of Colleges (AoC), representing employers, withdrew an offer to support a 0.5 per cent pay rise after it was unanimously rejected by unions, who called for a 5 per cent increase.

The AoC said it would only return to the table if the unions, including the UCU as well as the Association of Managers in Education, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, GMB, Unison and Unite, engaged in local discussions on conditions and pay.

Meanwhile, industrial action is already set for Thursday, June 6, after UCU members at Chesterfield College voted to strike over 70 proposed job cuts across management, teaching and support positions.

This follows the voluntary redundancies of more than 100 staff in the past two years.

UCU regional official Anne O’Sullivan said: “Bringing the axe down on another 70 jobs now is a very dangerous move.

“Staff have done brilliantly to cope with the departure of their colleagues in recent times and should not be rewarded with further cuts.

“Strike action is always a last resort, but the staff have simply had enough.”

She said that the union would not rule out further action unless the college removed the threat of compulsory redundancies.

Chesterfield principal Trevor Clay said: “The continuing decline in the number of
16 to 18 year olds within the county, the growth in the demand for apprenticeships, with reduced government funding, are fundamental factors reflecting the need for restructure.

“It is of course regrettable that unions are taking industrial action.

“In regard to our proposals, so far the only alternative that has been put forward by the teaching unions is to offer an increased redundancy package to those considering voluntary redundancy.”

He said this was “highly unlikely” to achieve the needed staff reductions and was a cost that the college would struggle to find.

“As such, this would leave us in the same position we are in now,” said Mr Clay.

“We remain open to all additional suggestions of how to address these changes to our funding.”