The cost of an ongoing strike at Lambeth College over new contracts for staff is nearing the £200,000-mark for the cash-strapped University and College Union, while learners brace themselves for a possible fifth week of disruption.
Teachers and lecturers on the picket line have been getting £50 a-day from the UCU, which has said up to 180 workers were on the strike called over new contracts containing longer working hours and offering less annual leave.
It comes just over a year after the UCU’s own honorary treasurer, Alan Carr, called for £2m of annual savings to be made by April next year.
And the UCU has already tried to raise more money to pay protestors with fund-raising during a “national day of action” on Wednesday (June 25).
Meanwhile a YouTube video has emerged (pictured above) in which protesting staff performed music hall song The Lambeth Walk — which they called “The Lambeth Walk(OUT!)” — in front of the college while learners and non-striking colleagues were inside working.
A UCU spokesperson said picket lines were “almost always enjoyable, good humoured places to be with members finding a variety of ways to get their message across,” but declined to comment on the effect the strike, which started on June 3, was having on union finances.
However, he added: “Like most unions, the UCU pays strike pay during strategically important or prolonged disputes. That is one of the many benefits of being a union member.”
The new contracts at the centre of the row offer 50 days a year annual leave — 10 days less than that given to existing staff.
However, Lambeth principal Mark Silverman has said the terms of the contract, introduced from April 1, were “in line with sector norms”.
He said they were part of the college’s recovery plan following financial deficits of £4.1m in 2012/13 and £3.5m this year.
And he told staff on Tuesday (June 24) that he was willing to enter into talks having emailed the UCU “firm proposals for discussion” the previous day.
Mr Silverman said his proposals included an offer to discuss the “implementation and management of the new contract,” including the proposed changes to sick pay and holiday entitlements.
He said he would also look at providing assurances to existing staff that they would not be affected by the new contract.
The UCU said, two days after Mr Silverman’s message to staff, that it had been consulting members and was therefore ready to negotiate.
The UCU spokesperson said: “We have been trying to resolve this dispute for months. It was a welcome first step, however late, to receive the proposals.
“During the week we have consulted with our members and have now responded. If the principal is prepared to seriously consider UCU’s response we can begin negotiations immediately.”
Meanwhile, the UCU was on Friday (June 27) due to consider an Association of Colleges pay offer said to be the biggest it had received in five years. It included removing the lowest current pay grade.
Pay for staff on the lowest remaining grade would also increase by 2 per cent to £7.65-an-hour, with all other grades rising by 1 per cent.
(Pictured above: A still from a YouTube video of Lambeth College staff singing and dancing while picketing outside work.)
Draw the line
It was great to hear the UCU and Lambeth College principal Mark Silverman were set to follow the advice of learners who told FE Week they wanted those responsible to sit down and thrash things out.
But it took far too long to get that little progress.
This is a strike that has been costly to all parties involved.
Financially, reputationally and worst of all for the learners. It is just not right that they were without their lecturer for nearly a month.
In the coming years college bosses are going to be faced with some very tough decisions in the face of cuts.
And while it’s hard to imagine any principal relishing the thought of reviewing staff contracts, the wage bill and employment terms are always going to be bones of contention.
While further industrial action might therefore seem inevitable, both parties need to draw a line under this particular dispute.