College Teachers Fight For Fairer Pay
Members of the University and College Union from13 different colleges have been on strike action this week over pay. The two-day walkouts represent the second wave of action in response to the colleges’ failure to deal with the pay crisis after strikes at six colleges in November.
The dispute centres on the refusal of colleges to make a decent pay offer to staff who have seen the value of their pay decline by 25% over the last decade. The pay gap between teachers in colleges and schools currently stands at £7,000 and around two-thirds of college heads cite pay as a major obstacle when it comes to attracting staff.
Our members know all about the cuts which have so damaged the sector - we have been campaigning against them for more than a decade. We believe that further education needs much higher funding and that those who work in it do a vital job for our society and economy and should be fairly rewarded
The government does need to do more and it had seemed as if the message was finally getting through to politicians in Westminster. In amongst all the recent debates about Brexit, further education funding was debated by MPs at the start of last week after a petition calling for better funding attracted 70,000 signatures.
Sadly, it appears the message has not got through to the Prime Minister. When asked about the funding crisis in colleges at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday she merely claimed that the government respected further education.
That claim does not stand up to scrutiny and would have offered little comfort to the hundreds of UCU members braving sub-zero temperatures on the picket line. As well as seeing their pay drop in real terms and being paid considerably less than school teachers, college staff work in the sector that has been hit the hardest by this administration.
Colleges who don’t try and hide behind government failings but instead engage with the union on the pay and conditions of their staff will receive a positive hearing from UCU.
An indication of what can be done came from deals recently agreed at the Capital City College Group (CCCG) and in principle at Hugh Baird College on the eve of the strikes. While not every college can match the CCCG deal, UCU members are fed up with being told that nothing at all is possible unless the government comes to the rescue.
Is it really true that those colleges can do nothing about workload? Nothing about the rising casualisation of the workforce? Nothing about the collapsing rates of pay of teachers relative to their colleagues in schools? Or nothing to improve the job security of their staff?
Colleges who give nothing when they could work with us to solve these problems should expect to reap what they sow. Nobody wants to take strike action, but UCU members are tired of being taken for granted by the government and their colleges.
We are happy to work with colleges to campaign for more funding but they must not use that lack of government investment as an excuse to shirk their responsibility for their overworked and underpaid staff.
By Matt Waddup, Head of Policy at University and College Union