Staff at a large Norwich college will go on strike next week over a pay offer of up to 5.1 per cent, which union leaders have dubbed a “huge real terms pay cut”.
But college chiefs have voiced their disappointment that the union has resorted to industrial action over a pay rise that for the lowest earners is double that recommended by the industry body.
University and College Union (UCU) members at City College Norwich and its Easton College and Paston College campuses will take to the picket line on Wednesday and Thursday next week, March 15 and 16.
The college confirmed that plans were being put in place for all of its sites to remain open on the strike days and keep disruption to a minimum, which included making sure that all scheduled exams and assessments “will go ahead as planned”.
The union reported it had “around 300” members at the college who would be eligible to join the picket line. Latest college accounts indicated there were 1,115 members of staff, 492 of whom are teaching staff, at the college.
According to the UCU, the lowest paid members of staff had been offered a 5.1 per cent rise, college lecturers were handed a 4 per cent increase and other staff 2.5 per cent.
It said the pay award was so low that the college had lost its status as a real living wage employer, with the union demanding a 14 per cent pay rise to help staff face the cost-of-living crisis.
Since 2009, staff pay across the college sector has fallen 35 per cent behind inflation over that period, the union said.
David Hunter, UCU City College Norwich branch chair, said: “In the face of the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation, City College Norwich management has abandoned its commitment to paying the real living wage and implemented a pay offer far below the rate of inflation.”
Hunter said it represented a real terms pay cut, and added: “With food and fuel prices rocketing our members have no option but to continue to fight for a fair pay rise in the only way left to them – by taking strike action.”
In the autumn, the Association of Colleges had recommended a 2.5 per cent pay rise for colleges, with chief executive David Hughes explaining that “the money is simply not there” for anything higher, recognising that “funding has largely been eaten up by soaring inflation and spiralling energy costs”.
In September and October around 25 colleges went out on strike, although City College Norwich was not among those.
A college spokesperson said: “It is very disappointing that our students may experience some disruption to their learning on these dates, as the senior team and governors of the college have done all we can to secure a resolution to this dispute.”
The college said it had increased its original 2.5 per cent award for “many staff” to 4 per cent, and more than 5 per cent for those on the lowest pay.
It stressed it had also addressed other issues raised by the union, such as removing car park fees and starting a review of staff structures to make grade scales for session lecturers more transparent and fair.
The college said it would “like to pay our staff more, but we are not in a position to do so”, in common with other colleges in England. It said the UCU’s 14 per cent demand would “immediately place the college finances in difficulty”.
City College Norwich’s accounts for 2021/22 show that it achieved an operating surplus of £383,000. The financial statements also show the college group holds over £16 million in cash and has over £50 million in reserves.
Remuneration for the principal and chief executive went up from £153,000 in July 2021 to £158,000 in July 2022 – a 3.2 per cent increase, although that was for the previous principal and CEO Corrienne Peasgood.
Current principal and chief executive Jerry White, who had previously been deputy principal at the college, took up the post in August 2022.