The UCU union is balloting members in further education (FE) colleges in England to take strike action in support of a better pay deal. Our pay claim, agreed with other FE unions calls for a 6 percent increase or £1,500, whichever is the greater.
We are also seeking agreement on national conditions of service in every college.
The new claim follows a below-inflation offer last year of 2.45 percent. Despite submitting the claim in January, the national FE employers’ federation, the Association of Colleges (AoC), has refused to meet the unions until May.
FE members in England have average hourly pay 15 percent lower than secondary school teachers. College principals, who have preached pay restraint for their staff, have seen their pay increase at a rate 50 percent faster than lecturers since 2002 and now have an average salary of £100,000.
Our college members do extraordinarily challenging, important work in a variety of settings, for little reward.
They teach school children, but earn less than school teachers. They teach A-Levels, but earn less than sixth form teachers and some provide higher education in FE, yet earn less than university staff
No wonder that everywhere I go, college staff tell me they are fed up with low pay, rising workloads, increased stress, the threat of privatisation, course closures, overwhelming bureaucracy. Cuts in funding for the needy are all significant issues.
In this context what our members are paid may just be one issue, but it is a mark of the respect we have from employers and government.
UCU is seeking a better deal for FE staff which matches the rise in prices and the contribution members make to our colleges.
Our members are angry about pay of course, but as dedicated professionals they are also unhappy about the impact of current education policy on their colleges and their students.
So while the aim of the ballot is to get a better deal for our members, it is also part of a wider campaign called Our Schools, Our Colleges, Our Communities. This has seen UCU link up with the National Union of Teachers (NUT), students and anti-privatisation activists to defend and promote our vision of education.
At the heart of this campaign is the recognition that the current public policy emphasises skills for business over community-based learning for all and fails to allocate sufficient resources to fund professional pay levels.
Meanwhile the government obsession with marketisation threatens to turn education into a commodity and throws colleges into destructive competition with each other and with private sector providers.
UCU opposes the privatisation of education. A key part of our campaign is the belief that unions must engage more positively in the battle of policy ideas and that our role is to challenge the current pre-eminence of the market as the solution to every problem in education.
In fact the wheels are coming off the government’s privatisation policy in education. The recent collapse of Carter and Carter, one of the largest private providers of FE, has left around one in 15 English colleges owed money and put future provision for thousands of learners at risk.
Privatisation does not just threaten colleges, but all public services. At the recent UCU and NUT launch of Our Schools, Our Colleges, Our Communities, members from both unions discussed shared concerns about threats to the quality of local, public education from both college marketisation and city academies.
While UCU and NUT have separate pay claims and negotiating forums, both unions are balloting members with a view to taking industrial action on 24 April if we don’t receive an acceptable response from our employers.
Everyone knows that winning a better deal for staff and students will not be easy. But my hope is that whatever happens this year, Our Schools, Our Colleges, Our Communities goes beyond the current pay round.
It is a recognition that as unions we have to build a wider consensus to defend education and that better pay and conditions will be easier to achieve if we have strong public support for our vision of education.
In the meantime, I hope every UCU member makes sure they fill in and return their ballot paper – and vote yes to take action.
To find out more about UCU’s campaign go to » www.ucu.org.uk/betterdeal