Unions write to AOC to justify 5 per cent national pay claim

Trade unions have written to the Association of Colleges to spell out exactly why they have resubmitted a claim for a raise of five per cent for the next academic year.

They originally made the request at a meeting at the start of May, but the AoC said it would not consider a claim while some colleges were still in dispute with the University and College Union.

Later that month the AoC, which represents college leadership, backed down.

“There is a unanimous acceptance among further education participants (staff, learners and leaders), stakeholders and commentators, that there is an urgent need for increased investment in FE staff pay,” representatives from UCU and Unison wrote. 

“At a time when pay settlements in the rest of the public sector are no longer subject to a one-per-cent cap, there is a real danger that FE falls further behind. 

“We call on the AoC to make an offer that meets our members’ reasonable expectation for an above inflation pay rise and catch up from a decade of real cuts in pay.”

FE staff have suffered a “staggering real-terms cut in pay” of over 25 per cent since 2009.

“In cash terms, that means a £2,484 pay-cut on the bottom point, rising to over £9,000 for experienced lecturers and more for those higher up the scale,” the letter said. “Many have suffered worse where few or no increases have been awarded over those years.”

The unions want a guaranteed minimum increase of £1,500 for the lowest-paid staff where a five-per-cent rise is lower than £1,500.

They also want colleges to pay the living wage of £8.75 (£10.20 in London) and become accredited living wage employers.

Every union representing staff working in FE, which include Unison, Unite, GMB and the National Education Union as well as UCU, previously submitted a claim for a five-per-cent raise or £1,500, whichever is higher, in May.

This has been a summer of heated industrial action, which has seen the unions record a certain degree of success.

Bosses at Capital City College Group reached a deal with staff to end a long-running pay dispute, just days after UCU members voted unanimously to escalate action nationwide if the AoC failed to meet 2018/19 pay demands.

Bosses offered staff a “modest, non-consolidated payment” and more secure contracts.

A payment of £500 per full-time member of staff came in addition to the one-per-cent increase recommended by the AoC last September.

A third wave of action at 10 colleges or campuses over the one-per-cent offer the AoC made for 2017/18 was announced early in May.

But four have now reached agreements, with Sandwell College agreeing a “sector-leading” deal worth more than six per cent over three years.

A strike over job cuts at Bradford College was called off at the last minute, after it agreed to reopen its voluntary redundancy scheme.

“Colleges have some of the most talented and dedicated staff, transforming lives across the UK every day,” said AoC boss David Hughes. “We need to do all that we can to recognise, respect and reward them, and we look forward to constructive talks with the national joint forum in July.

 “The chronic under-funding of the FE sector is damaging for staff and students – it is simply not acceptable that teachers in schools are earning on average £37,000 compared but only £30,000 in colleges. The AoC will continue to work positively with the trade unions to pressure government for proper investment in a sector supporting 2.2 million people each year in England.”