Industrial action

Seven in ten college staff ‘may quit’ due to low pay

New survey evidence from UCU reveals the impact low pay and rising costs of living are having on college teaching staff.

New survey evidence from UCU reveals the impact low pay and rising costs of living are having on college teaching staff.

College staff are skipping meals, rationing hot water at home and seven out of ten say they could quit their jobs due to low pay and the cost-of-living crisis, according to the University and College Union (UCU).

Results of a survey of over 2,700 UCU members, published today, show that working in further education has become unaffordable for the majority of staff and puts the government’s levelling-up agenda at risk, claims the union’s general secretary, Jo Grady.

“It is beyond scandalous that dedicated college staff are being forced to skip meals and ration hot water and heating because their low pay has left them completely exposed to this cost of living crisis,” Grady said.

The report, called ‘On The Breadline: The cost of living crisis for England’s college workers’, furthers union calls for urgent pay increase for college staff. UCU branches in 33 colleges are currently balloting for strike action over low pay. Ballots close next Friday, July 15.

Grady has today threatened leaders with strikes in more colleges, saying the union’s findings should “shock employers into action”.

“The harrowing testimony of college staff should shock employers into action. If it doesn’t and ministers refuse to step in, our union will ballot for strike action at even more English colleges, with the aim of delivering uplifts in pay which will enable college staff to make it through this cost of living crisis, and safeguard the future of the sector.”

College staff want higher pay, more manageable workloads, reduced administration and better job security.

This follows research published by UCU in June which found that college staff were, on average, working at least two days a week for free.

Seven in ten respondents to UCU’s survey said they will “definitely not” or “probably not” still be working in further education in five years time unless pay is raised.

“I am literally living hand to mouth. I want to get out of teaching in further education,” one survey respondent wrote.

When asked what steps staff were taking to make ends meet, over 60 per cent said they were heating their home less frequently. Just over 55 per cent said they were using savings and 45 per cent said they were using credit cards.

“I am currently working three jobs in order to be able to live. I am also unable to rent a house or flat so I’m living with my parents. I had to decline a sick note from my doctor because of my low income and lack of sick pay as I can’t afford to have time off,” said one survey response. 

Negotiations between unions and the Association of Colleges for a recommended pay award for college staff are at an impasse. The AoC’s latest recommendation of 2.5 per cent was branded “beyond insulting” by the union and “simply unaffordable” by some colleges.

“As the government falls apart, the college staff responsible for delivering what remains of its levelling-up agenda are saying they cannot afford to stay in further education. With seven in ten pledging to leave their jobs if pay and working conditions continue to be eroded it is clear that the future of the entire sector is under threat,” Grady said.

Today’s report repeats the union’s ask for a ten per cent increase in pay and for “workload and wellbeing protocols” to be agreed between unions and employers.

UCU is also calling for a review of non-permanent teaching contracts to increase job security and opportunities for career progression, and wants to see pay gaps closed for disabled and black staff, who are more likely to be paid lower salaries.

The Association of Colleges said it has “urged the government for emergency funding to boost staff pay” because of soaring inflation and the cost of living crisis.

Its deputy chief executive, Julian Gravatt, defended the association’s recent pay offer: “This is the largest pay recommendation since 2014, but it is on the limits of – and beyond for some – what is affordable for colleges.

“Our recommendation represents a 6.6 per cent increase for staff at the very lowest end of the pay scale because we’ve recommended both a 2.5 per cent rise and a non-consolidated cost pressure payment of £750 for those earning up to £25,000, and £500 for others subject to locally agreed thresholds.

“We have asked those colleges not currently paying staff the Living Wage Foundation minimum wage, which is currently £9.90 – and £11.05 in London – to publish their timeframe for implementation.”

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