UCU threatens strike action over AoC’s ‘derisory’ 1% staff pay rise recommendation

The University and College Union has threatened more strike action in the new year after the Association of Colleges recommended their members offer staff a one per cent pay rise this year.

After meeting today, the union said the “derisory” offer was tantamount to a “breach of faith” as the AoC previously acknowledged that staff deserved more and campaigned alongside them in calling for additional funding.

The UCU’s head of further education Andrew Harden said the offer is “simply inexcusable” and will “rightly anger staff”, especially after chancellor Sajid Javid announced colleges would benefit from a £400 million boost for learners aged 16 to 19.

“It sends a clear signal to staff that they are not being prioritised, which threatens key relationships at precisely the time when the sector needs to work together.”

AoC chief executive David Hughes called the chancellor’s boost a “welcome start to redress the decade of cuts,” but the AoC had calculated that a little less than half of that will end up with colleges next academic year. 

The association expects colleges to have funding allocations for 2020/21 by the end of March 2020 and they have promised to accelerate a pay recommendation for the following academic year.

But “to do so any sooner would be reckless given the financial stress colleges find themselves facing”.

Hughes said decisions regarding pay “never come easily” and described staff as the “backbone of our institutions – transforming the lives of millions each year”.

“We have been consistently clear that colleges want to do much better on pay but have been stymied as the cuts of over 30 per cent have put colleges under severe financial stress,” he added.

“We agree that college staff deserve better and will continue to campaign with Trade Unions, students and stakeholders to push the government for additional investment so that they can be properly rewarded.”

Harden believes closing the £7,000 pay gap between school and college teachers must be a priority, as the union said staff were already struggling to pay rent and had been forced to use food banks.

A one per cent offer, the union added, would only widen that pay gap after school teachers were awarded a 3.5 per cent pay rise in 2018.

Strike action has proven an effective strategy for UCU members looking for a pay rise: Capital City College Group agreed to a five per cent increase for staff in November, despite the fact it would plunge the provider into its third consecutive annual operating deficit.

In March, a strike at New College Swindon was called off after it agreed a two per cent pay increase.

Lambeth College agreed with staff in May to a three per cent rise, additional leave and a reduction in teaching hours following ten days of strike action.

And a deal at Hugh Baird College earlier in the year saw staff receive a pay rise of up to 6 per cent plus five days’ extra annual leave.