College staff should be given another 1 per cent pay rise this year, the Association of Colleges has recommended in a move that has left unions “furious”.
The unions say this is the thirteenth below inflation offer in a row submitted by membership body, which is causing staff trying to make ends meet “major distress and anxiety”.
AoC chief executive David Hughes admitted the offer will “feel like a kick in the teeth” for staff who have worked through the pandemic but explained the “extremely challenging financial position” of colleges has again limited the pay recommendation they can make.
He said a “more meaningful” pay award might be possible next year.
In October, five trade unions asked colleges to significantly move to restore the “35 per cent cut in pay staff have suffered since 2009”, in a claim that would also close the £9,000 pay gap between schoolteachers and further education lecturers.
In addition, the unions called for the foundation living wage – currently £9.90 or £11.05 in London – to be the minimum for all staff across the sector, and for colleges to become “accredited living wage employers”.
But the AoC said it could not recommend more than a 1 per cent pay rise for all staff.
The unions say this is despite a joint campaign with colleges to win additional funding for the sector and when inflation is at a ten year high. They warn that “trust must be restored now it’s become clear” that the jointly won £400 million funding increase of 2020 is not being passed on to staff.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “This Christmas, college employers have decided to gift staff yet another real terms pay cut. After holding the entire sector together during the pandemic, those who work in our colleges will rightly be furious at this offensive 1 per cent pay offer.
“Colleges have repeatedly used a lack of government funding as an excuse to hold down staff pay, but after joint campaigning resulted in increased funding for colleges last year staff expected their falling pay to finally be addressed. Sadly, employers seem unable to wean themselves off cutting staff pay.”
But Hughes hit back: “The reality is that with no funding rate rise at all for this academic year, and with inflation soaring, colleges are struggling to break even this year.
“Despite recent investment announcements, they have in effect suffered a funding cut again this year of 4 or 5 per cent, and the planned future increases will not rectify the last decade of cuts. The recent spending review should mean that a more meaningful pay award will be possible next year – I sincerely hope that is so, because college staff deserve much better than this.”
The unions did welcome a commitment from the AoC to work with them to develop an agreement on workload, wellbeing and mental health. But they say this won’t resolve the underlying issue of low pay.
Colleges in Scotland and Wales are already accredited living wage employers. But in England many staff only earn the minimum wage. Unions say the AoC needs to do more than encourage college employers to pay the real living wage, it “needs to instruct them to do so”.
Unite national officer for education Siobhan Endean said the “derisory” pay offer goes “nowhere near meeting the rise in the cost of living”, while GMB national officer Avril Chambers described it as “frankly insulting” and “a slap in the face”.
UNISON head of education Mike Short added: “A 1 per cent pay offer is a joke – and not a funny one. There can be no justification for what amounts to another pay cut for dedicated staff.”
He warned that college employees are “struggling to keep their heads above water” as the cost-of-living spirals and could start leaving for better paid jobs elsewhere.