Unison FE members ‘overwhelmingly’ reject AoC pay freeze proposal

Further education sector members of Unison have “overwhelmingly” voted to reject an Association of Colleges (AoC) pay freeze recommendation for 2015/16, FE Week can reveal.

Unison has written to the AoC, and colleges it is negotiating for, with the result and a warning that unless the offer was improved the union would be “in dispute” with them.

A total of 95 per cent of those voting in the Unison consultation rejected the offer, with twice as many colleges participating as last year. Unison has called for an urgent meeting of the union side of the Joint National Forum, with a view to discussing next steps and also a campaign against further funding cuts ‎expected in the Autumn Statement.

Jon Richards, national secretary for education at Unison, said: “The unprecedented recommendation for a pay freeze has caused anger at a time when staff are being asked to carry greater burdens and when there is a need to provide a united front to defend the sector and learners.”

The University and College Union (UCU) also opened a ballot with its members in September on the pay freeze proposal and potential subsequent strike action. The results are expected by the end of the week with the ballot officially closing at noon tomorrow (October 15).

“Our FE committee will meet shortly after we have the result to consider our next steps,” said a UCU spokesperson.

The Association of Teachers & Lecturers (ATL), has also debated the AoC’s proposal for a wage freeze, but said members were reluctant to pursue industrial action.

The ATL submitted a ballot early last month in the form of a survey to its members, and to members of its leadership section, the Association of Managers in Education (AMiE).

Dr Mary Bousted, ATL general secretary, said: “ATL and AMiE members in FE colleges affiliated to the AoC in England were consulted on their attitudes around taking industrial action over the AoC’s recommendation for a 0 per cent pay rise.

“Although members expressed significant unhappiness with the offer, there was little enthusiasm for sustained industrial action at this time.”

In response to the results of the Unison consultation, Marc Whitworth, Director of Employment Policy and Services at the Association of Colleges (AoC), said that colleges want to reward their staff for the work they do, but are also faced with limitations.‎

“The zero per cent pay recommendation AoC has made reflects the feedback we have had from our member colleges about the stringent financial circumstances in the sector.

“Cuts to funding for both adults and young people have left budgets stretched and this means colleges have to make some tough decisions,” he added.

In reference to the UCU ballot which closes at noon tomorrow (October 15), Mr Whitworth has previously said: “Although not unexpected it is nevertheless disappointing that the UCU will ballot for action … Strikes are very disruptive for colleges and more importantly for students.

“We would encourage UCU to consider how we might better work together to represent our respective members collectively and position the FE sector to remunerate more effectively in the longer term.

“There is a willingness from the employers’ side to work together to protect the prospects of FE, its skilled workforce and the students it serves.”

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