Lecturers strike at London college despite agreeing pay deal last year

Strikes started today at a large London college just a year and a half after staff agreed a pay deal.

University College Union members at the Tower Hamlets branch of New City College (NCC) have been on a picket line since 8am and will be out for 48 hours.

It comes in spite of NCC granting employees a one-off payment of £400 and an annual salary increase of £400 in June 2018 after a dispute which involved three days of walkouts the month before.

Since then, staff have received a 1 per cent pay rise in 2018/19 and a 2 per cent rise in 2019/20.

However, this latest action is part of a wave of strikes that washed across the country earlier this year focused on the national pay deal: the UCU is calling for a 5 per cent pay bump, or £1,500 if that is greater, for college staff.

This led to planned walkouts at colleges like New College Swindon, Lambeth College, Capital City College Group and Hugh Baird College – all of which later reached a deal with staff including a pay rise of between two and six per cent.

Gerry McDonald, chief executive of NCC, said in June 2018 the one-off pay rise and annual increase was “not a pay deal, and is not linked to any national UCU campaign or any organised union action”.

A spokesperson for the UCU said the union is unhappy with the way NCC applied this year’s 2 per cent rise – as it was done without negotiation.

It’s also a “flat percentage increase across the whole staff”, meaning that those earning the most will “receive much more than the lowest paid”, the spokesperson added.

Additionally, they said the pay rise is being applied in two stages: the first 1 per cent comes in at the end of November 2019 backdated to August, and the other 1 per cent in February 2020 – so while staff will end the year 2 per cent higher, in practice this is closer to 1.5 per cent for the 2019/20 academic year.

NCC staff also want action to tackle rising workloads, improvements to contracts and formal recognition for trade unions.

UCU regional support official Caroline Lake said: “Strike action is never taken lightly but staff at the college are sick and tired of hearing the same old excuses.

“The college cannot continue to use government cuts as a reason to hold down staff pay when other institutions are finding ways to fairly reward their staff.

“It’s time for the college to come back to the negotiating table with a better offer that addresses the concerns of staff, otherwise further action could be on the cards.”

In November, the Association of Colleges recommended their members only offer staff a one per cent pay rise this year. AoC chief executive David Hughes said at the time it would be “reckless” to recommend a higher pay rise “given the financial stress colleges find themselves facing”.

The UCU said the pay gap between teachers in colleges and schools was around £7,000 in favour of schools, and some teachers were also awarded a 3.5 per cent pay rise by the Department for Education last year.

NCC staff went on strike in May and September of this year and this latest action was voted for with 90 per cent of the vote.

New City College declined to comment on today’s strike.