The pay crisis in further education has led to the forthcoming UCU strike. Those who work in this sector are doing a vital job, says Matt Waddup, and they need to be rewarded better

Members of the University and College Union at 16 colleges will be taking strike action over pay at the end of the month. The two-day walkouts represent the second wave of action in response to colleges’ failure to deal with the declining value of pay in the sector. The arguments are well rehearsed and unfortunately so are the excuses.

The dispute centres on the refusal of colleges to make a decent pay offer to staff who have seen the value of their pay decline by 25 per cent over the last decade. The pay gap between teachers in colleges and schools currently stands at £7,000 and low pay is bad for staff, students and colleges, with around two-thirds of college heads citing pay as a major obstacle when it comes to attracting staff.

An indication of what can be done came from the 5 per cent pay increase offered by the Capital City College Group (CCCG) to over 1,700 staff last term. While not every college can match the CCCG deal, UCU members are fed up with being told that nothing at all is possible unless, and until, government comes to the rescue.

Is it really true that colleges can do nothing about workload? Nothing about the rising casualisation of the workforce? Nothing about the collapsing rates of pay of teachers relative to their colleagues in schools? Or nothing to improve the job security of their staff?

Leadership is about setting an example, not hiding in the crowd, and institutions who step to the front and engage with the union on these important issues will receive a positive hearing from UCU.

Our members know all about the cuts that have so damaged the sector – we have been campaigning against them for more than a decade. We believe that further education needs much higher funding and that those who work in it do a vital job for our society and economy but for little reward.

Is it really true that colleges can do nothing about workload?

We have written to education secretary Damian Hinds this week warning that the government’s ambition for further education cannot be met under current funding for the sector. In the letter, we called on the government to urgently provide extra funding for staff who feel undervalued and severely underpaid.

The strikes later this month build on the action taken at six colleges in November and colleges need to be under no illusion – further action is on the cards if they continue to fail to deal with the pay crisis in further education.

Those who give nothing when they could work with us to solve some of these problems should expect to reap what they sow. While CCCG is rightly being held up as an example of what can be achieved when the college works with us to improve pay and conditions, UCU members at CCCG took eight days of strike action this year to concentrate minds.

Our further education committee will meet after the second phase at the end of this month to consider next steps. Nothing is being ruled out at this point and we are determined to make colleges address the problems within the sector.

Nobody wants to take strike action, but UCU members are tired of being taken for granted by the government and their colleges. We are happy to work with colleges to campaign for more funding but they must not use the lack of government investment as an excuse to do nothing for their overworked and underpaid staff.