Staff at The Sheffield College are set to go on strike this week in the first of four planned days of industrial action over an “insulting” pay offer.
The University and College Union (UCU) this morning announced that over 200 staff at the college could walk out this Friday, January 20, before further demonstrations on January 30, February 7 and February 9.
In addition, staff will work to rule from Monday next week, which means they will only work to their contracted hours, refusing to work additional hours or cover for other colleagues.
There are 226 UCU members at the college who are eligible to strike. The union reported that its ballot had a 59 per cent turnout, with 87 per cent of those who voted wishing to strike.
The college advised students to attend as normal with the campus and facilities open as normal.
It said that all exams will go ahead as planned, and said that alternative provision will be organised for students whose class does not have a tutor on those days.
It comes after a 2.5 per cent pay offer from the college was rejected, with the union dubbing it “insulting” while the current cost of living crisis continues to bite. Inflation is currently running at more than 9 per cent.
The union claimed that the college can afford a bigger pay rise because it is running at a surplus, with more than £9 million in its bank account and reserves in excess of £52 million, according to 2020/21 accounts.
But the college said that for 2021/22 the college had a deficit, not a surplus, that will be reflected in the next set of accounts.
Paul Simpson, executive director of people at The Sheffield College, said that from 2017/18 to 2021/22 the college provided a pay award above that recommended by the Association of Colleges.
He added: “Whilst we understand concerns about the increased cost of living and rising inflation, these unprecedented wider economic pressures are also impacting on colleges.
“We are not able to provide a greater pay award than the one already offered for 2021/22. We are in negotiations about 2022/23 currently and will continue to work with our trade union colleagues to seek a resolution.”
UCU regional official Julie Kelly said: “It’s frankly insulting that Sheffield College thinks it can get away with offering staff just 2.5 per cent when inflation is soaring and our members are being pushed into poverty. The college has millions in the bank and it can afford to make staff a realistic offer that will help them make ends meet.”
According to accounts for 2020/21, the college employs 995 people with 423 of those being teaching staff.
Those accounts reported an operating surplus of £224,000 before other gains and losses.
In July last year, the UCU published a report which said eight in 10 staff at colleges in England were worried about finances, with seven in 10 considering leaving the sector unless pay is increased.
Soaring inflation and price rises last year prompted a wave of strikes at around 30 general FE colleges in the autumn over pay, although The Sheffield College was not one of those to see walk-outs.
The Association of Colleges has recommended that colleges give staff a 2.5 per cent pay rise – but the UCU had demanded 10 per cent with a £2,000 minimum uplift.
David Hughes, AoC chief executive, previously said college leaders want to increase staff pay, but “the money is simply not there”.
“The modest increase in funding rates last year contributed to our increased pay recommendation this year, the largest in over a decade, but this funding has largely been eaten up by soaring inflation and spiralling energy costs,” he added.
It comes as hundreds of thousands of National Education Union members at schools will go on strike across seven days of industrial action in February and March.
Crunch talks have so far failed to make enough progress over this year’s pay offer, according to the Association of School and College Leaders which is currently deciding whether to do its own formal ballot for strike action.
However, ballots at the NASUWT and NAHT unions failed to meet the legal threshold for strike action.
Meanwhile, 70,000 UCU members in the nation’s universities have voted for industrial action after talks over pay, pensions and working conditions broke down.
University staff will walk out on February 1 with threats of a further 17 strike days in February and March if no agreement is reached. Staff had been given a 3 per cent rise, with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, which represents university leaders, proposing a 4 to 5 per cent rise, but the UCU says it wants a more meaningful offer.
The Sheffield College has been approached for comment.