Association of Colleges backs down on 2018/19 pay negotiations

The Association of Colleges has backed down in its argument with the FE unions on next year’s pay claim – even though disputes over this year’s deal are ongoing.

Earlier this month the AoC said it was “not minded to consider” a pay claim for 2018/19 while members of the University and College Union were still taking action “over the 2017/18 round at any AoC member college”.

This was deemed “unacceptable” by the union, which described the refusal as an “unnecessary provocation” that risked undermining the AoC’s “credibility and relevance to the sector”, according to a joint letter from the unions to AoC boss David Hughes.

But the association has now agreed to accept the 2018/19 pay claim, even though five colleges still have strikes planned in the coming weeks.

Sally Hunt, UCU’s general secretary, welcomed the AoC’s change of heart.

“We always think the best place to resolve any issue is at the negotiating table,” she said. “It is time for them to come to the table with a decent pay offer for staff who have seen their pay held down for too long.”

Mary Vine-Morris, the AoC’s London director, said the move was “in the best interest of the sector as a whole that national pay negotiations continue”.

“It is more beneficial for the sector that we focus on the bigger picture and jointly campaign to improve sector funding,” she said.

“The industrial action at a small number of colleges” was a “challenge for AoC” that “inevitably undermines productive working relationships”.

“We are glad that this is now down to a handful of disputes by local UCU branches, which we hope will soon be resolved,” she added.

London was a hotbed of industrial action last week, with staff at five colleges walking out in an ongoing dispute over a below-inflation pay offer of one per cent in 2017/18 made by the AoC in September.

Staff at Lambeth College, City and Islington College, Westminster Kingsway College, and the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London had walked out twice already this year over the offer, which the UCU described as “disappointing”.

And Lewisham Southwark staff joined them for the first time, in protest at being told by their paymasters at NCG in the north that they won’t be getting any pay rise at all this year.

UCU members at all five are set to walk out again in early June.

But elsewhere the union has claimed success.

A three-day strike at Sandwell College was called off at the last minute earlier this month, after college leaders agreed to a “sector-leading” pay rise worth six per cent over three years.

And a strike at Bradford College was halted last week after the college agreed to reopen its voluntary redundancy scheme at the eleventh hour, a move it said would “avoid the need for compulsory redundancies for lecturers”.