Industrial action

College staff warn of strike action if pay doesn’t increase by 10%

Staff pay has fallen by 35 per cent in real terms since 2009 and an indicative ballot of UCU members has shown 91 per cent are in favour of strike action

Staff pay has fallen by 35 per cent in real terms since 2009 and an indicative ballot of UCU members has shown 91 per cent are in favour of strike action

8 Apr 2022, 14:57

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The University and College Union has called on the Association of Colleges for a 10 per cent pay increase for college staff – warning their members are ready to strike. 

The claim has been submitted with other unions representing further education staff in England (GMB, Unison, NEU and Unite). 

As well as demanding a 10 per cent pay increase on all points with a minimum uplift of £2,000, the unions are calling for all colleges to become accredited Foundation Living wage employers and for “significant movement” towards agreements on workload in colleges.

The UCU noted that staff pay has fallen by 35 per cent in real terms since 2009 and said an indicative ballot of members has shown 91 per cent are in favour of strike action.

Negotiations with the AoC are expected to formally commence in May. However, AoC chief executive David Hughes has said the unions’ demands are “clearly not affordable”.

“As the cost-of-living crisis bites hard, we hope this year’s pay talks can be concluded quickly and satisfactorily,” said UCU general secretary, Jo Grady. 

“Staff will rightly expect an offer that makes up for more than a decade of real-term cuts and goes some way to addressing the unacceptable pay gap between staff in colleges and schools.”

Grady argued that a proper pay rise of 10 per cent can also support recruitment and retention of staff in the sector, going some way to easing the vacancy and workload crises.

UCU has also called for a number of improvements on workload, including an agreed national policy on guided learning hours, more administration staff, agreed class size recommendations as well as workload and wellbeing protocols. 

These protocols include working from home agreements and agreed boundaries for contacting staff by email or phone. 

UCU said that further education staff across England voted in their thousands to consider the next steps towards industrial action in defence of the claim.  

Nine in ten members (91 per cent) that took part in a recent indicative ballot voted to consider strike action and many UCU said that branches may soon move towards statutory postal ballots for industrial action – the last step needed before strikes can take place.  

“Further education staff are highly skilled and dedicated professionals and are key to any ambitions to upskill communities,” Grady added.  

“But the result of our indicative ballot on strike action shows that they will not take further attacks on their working conditions lying down.”

She said this must act as a “wakeup call” for employers if they do not want to see disruption in colleges across England.

Since 2009 pay in further education has fallen behind inflation by more than 35 per cent. The gap between school and college teachers currently stands at around £9,000. 

The AoC acknowledged that college staff pay has lagged behind other sectors, but the organisation’s chief executive David Hughes said that the UCU’s demands were “not affordable”. 

“Colleges once again are facing enormous financial challenges as we enter into negotiations for this pay award recommendation,” said Hughes. 

“Colleges are experiencing the perfect storm of inflation, energy prices, NI and national living wage increases as well as recruitment and retention difficulties in a very tight labour market.”

Hughes said that all of this is hitting “every public sector organisation and every household” and that staff and students are being impacted.

He accepted that college staff pay has lagged behind other sectors, particularly schools and industry, and that it was “no surprise” that the union claim is “so ambitious”.

“Clearly, this is not affordable given the funding challenges the sector faces, but we will be thinking carefully and discussing together how best to respond. These discussions are not easy, in fact there is no simple solution without Government restoring funding to where it should be,” he added.

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  1. Unsurprisingly, Mr Hughes calls for financial restraint and is silent on executive pay in the sector, which is no surprise given his “Principals deserve compassion” article in which he said “they care passionately about learners” in 2018 (despite the evidence from subsequent FEC reports showing the complete opposite).

  2. Gavin Williamson

    The rate of adult funding has not increased at all in many years let alone 10% and the rise in 16 to 18 year olds is an 8% increase for 7% more work.
    The Union should be pressing the government for significant rate increases otherwise no pay rise is affordable.

  3. I agree with Gavin, unless the Unions join in the call for the funding to be restored back into Adult Education and FE , 10% is completely unrealistic. The costs per course has not been increased since 2010 but the requirements and cost to run them have increased. As a CEO of Charity supporting ESOL learners, my salary is less than the Programme Lead in a college.
    This situation is affecting all.

  4. An explanation would be nice on how a pay award lower than the rise in the cost of living is going to address worsening inequality and the constantly widening wealth gap.

    Leaders should spend more time looking after the welfare of the workforce and less time engaging in buzz-word bingo and playing politics.

    And just what exactly is a ‘perfect storm’? if another problem comes along will it become more perfect or mean it was ill judged as having been perfect in the first place. It’s almost as if it’s a meaningless throw-away phrase to conflate a bunch of reasons and deflect responsibility.