UCU members at six colleges set for two-day walk out

Members of the University and College Union at six colleges will walk out for two days next week, in the first wave of strikes this year over pay.

At the same time, staff at a further 26 colleges are being balloted on possible action in the future.

“Staff in FE colleges have seen their pay systematically eroded in recent years and are being paid £7,000 less than schoolteachers,” said Matt Waddup, UCU head of policy and campaigns.

“While the government must take the blame for their failure to invest in further education, colleges can and must do more to support their staff,” he said.

He warned that strikes are likely to continue into 2019 “until colleges show that they are at last prioritising their staff”.

The six colleges affected by the walk-outs on November 28 and 29 are Bath College, Bradford College, Croydon College, Lambeth College, New College Swindon and Petroc.

Ballots on action over pay at 26 more colleges will open on November 28, and close on December 19.

FE Week reported last month that UCU members in more than 100 colleges across the country had been balloted since August, but had been frustrated by trade union laws which stipulate a minimum of 50 per cent turnout before they can act on the results.

At the time, 85 per cent of members across 107 colleges that voted said they would strike, but only four colleges had met the threshold for action.

College staff are unhappy about proposals put forward by the Association of Colleges, which represents college leadership, over pay for 2018/19.

They were left bitterly disappointed in July when the AoC said it was unable to recommend a salary increase of five per cent, and was instead only able to propose a “substantial pay package” over two years dependent on government funding.

The UCU described the proposal as “bizarre” at the time and warned that an immediate solution was needed if colleges wanted to avoid strikes in the autumn.

No such action has since been forthcoming and the government has outright refused to provide the funds needed to increase staff pay – even though it was able to increase school teacher pay by 3.5 per cent.

The AoC’s chief executive, David Hughes, was furious about this and launched a new louder strategy by holding a “week of action” where students, staff, parents, employers, and stakeholders were asked to “advocate for colleges”, including a march on parliament to demand more funding.