Staff at a Hampshire-based college are set to strike for two days this week after union members received an “insulting” pay offer.
More than 100 employees at Havant and South Downs College could take part in industrial action on February 22 and 23 amid a row over low pay, with members of both the University and College Union and National Education Union voting to picket.
It comes as the unions have decried a 3 per cent pay offer for most college lecturers, which they claim is a real terms pay cut when inflation is running at more than three times that figure.
The UCU said the final pay award offered was 3 per cent for most college lecturers, who are largely on between £30,000 and £40,000 per year, with a one-off payment of around £400 for most staff.
This is, however, higher than the pay award recommended by the Association of Colleges of 2.5 per cent in the face of a decade of government funding cuts.
UCU branch chair Steve Pattenden said: “It’s frankly insulting that Havant and South Downs College thinks it can get away with offering staff just 3 per cent when inflation is soaring and our members are being pushed into poverty. We are determined to get a pay award that helps us meeting the cost-of-living crisis and management urgently needs to come back to the table with a fair offer.”
NEU representative John Rogers said that “enough is enough”, dubbing the situation “unsustainable”.
He added: “This year’s pay offer, coming during a time of high inflation and a cost-of-living crisis, represents a huge real terms pay cut. This continues what has been a relentless year-on-year attack on teaching and support staff pay and conditions.”
A spokesperson from Havant and South Downs College said it recognised the hard work of its teachers and support staff, and the impact the cost-of-living crisis was having.
They added: “With government funding FE colleges at a significantly lower level than schools and universities we simple do not have the resources available to meet the unions’ pay demands. We continue to discuss with unions what other measures could be agreed to reduce workload and related administrative pressures.
“Despite an increasingly challenging financial environment and inadequate funding, HSDC is determined to continue to provide a safe and stimulating environment for young people to learn and progress to university and employment and will strive to ensure that all three campuses remain open during the planned strike action.”
A statement on the college’s website said that while it was hoping to keep all campuses open “certain learning provisions may not be able to continue for health and safety reasons”.
UCU member staff at 26 colleges opted for strike action in the autumn over pay disputes. Havant and South Downs College was not one of those to take part in industrial action then.
At that time, the AoC had recommended a 2.5 per cent pay increase, with AoC chief David Hughes explaining that “the money simply isn’t there” for anything higher.
He recognised that the “modest” increase is “both inadequate compared with inflation but also on the cusp of what is affordable for most colleges”.
Addressing sector pay has been one of the AoC’s key asks of government in its submissions over the last year.
The UCU has been lobbying for a 10 per cent uplift with a minimum increase of £2,000.
According to Havant and South Downs College’s accounts for the year ending in July 2022, it had 853 staff on its books of which 382 were teaching staff.
Its financial plan for 2022/23 shows that £26.8 million had been budgeted for pay, with a provision of £1.1 million for the pay award.
The accounts said that after “several years when staffing costs have been at unsustainably high levels and significantly above FE sector norms”, the college has now brought its pay costs “under control”.
It reported that pay outturn was just over £26 million – 70.2 per cent of income, which was slightly above the FE Commissioner recommended target of 70 per cent for general FE colleges.
Havant and South Downs College recorded a £1.198 million “education specific EBITDA” (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation) surplis in 2021/22, which was £866,000 better than it had budgeted for.