Staff at colleges striking for up to 7 days in exam season

Staff at a host of colleges across the country will walk out on strike for up to seven days over exam season, in the latest action in an ongoing dispute over pay.

Ten colleges, nine of which are in London, will be affected in the latest round of action in May and early June, organised by the University and College Union.

The latest announcement follows two previous rounds of strike action by UCU members over a “disappointing” pay offer of just one per cent made by the Association of Colleges last September.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said that her members were “resolute” in their fight for better pay and conditions.

“Strike action is always a last resort, but in the face of repeated below-inflation pay awards staff feel they have been left with no other option,” she said.

“The colleges need to urgently address members’ concerns if they want to avoid further disruption to students in the coming weeks.”

But AoC boss David Hughes said the action was “regrettable” and warned that it risked “disrupting students during the vital exam season”.

Strike action would “negatively impact students” rather than the government, which he said was responsible for the “chronic under-funding of further education” that had led to colleges being “unable to offer their staff the pay rise requested”.

“We will continue to pressure government to recognise the value of the workforce, and will continue the constructive dialogue taking place between AoC, colleges and UCU,” he said.

Staff at the affected colleges have already walked out twice, with an estimated 1,500 taking part in the first wave of strike action at the beginning of March.

UCU said in a statement that staff are taking action over pay, but at some colleges disputes also include concerns over working conditions such as workload.

It insisted that none of the colleges affected had yet made what it considered to be an “acceptable” pay offer.

A spokesperson said that what would be considered acceptable would vary from college to college, but it must “represent a significant improvement on the one per cent offer and go some way to addressing the falling value of pay”.

The National Joint Forum, made up of the unions representing college staff, had submitted a claim for an across-the-board rise of around six per cent in April.

But the final offer from the AoC last September was just one per cent, or the sum of £250 “where this is more beneficial”.

AoC boss David Hughes expressed regret at the time that it was unable to offer more, but “current funding levels for colleges do not allow us to do so”. 

Last week UCU members at Lewisham Southwark College voted for strike action, to take place on May 22 and 23, in a dispute over their pay and conditions, which they say have got worse since the college’s merger with Newcastle-based NCG.

And staff at Hull College walked out earlier this week in protest at plans to slash jobs at the college.

Up to 231 full-time jobs are at risk as the college attempts to balance the books, prompting an angry response from UCU members and a vote of no-confidence in college chief executive Michelle Swithenbank.