Socialist Worker

Pay cuts and precarious contracts fuel college strikes

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2606

On the picket line at Westminster Kingsway

On the picket line at Westminster Kingsway (Pic: Socialist Worker)


There was a big picket line at Westminster Kingsway College in central London on Thursday as the latest wave of pay strikes continues.

UCU union members at the college were on the second day of a three-day walkout to demand a pay rise. Workers at City and Islington, Lambeth, and the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London were also out on strike.

Strikers told Socialist Worker that years of real terms pay cuts is just one issue fuelling workers’ anger. One picket said simply, “I’ve worked here on a zero hours contract for ten years.”

Another added, “I’m on a precarious contract. Teachers on precarious contracts earn around £10,000 a year less than people who are permanently employed.

“We’ve also had a 24 percent real terms pay cut since 2009. We were told that after a merger there would be more money. A pay rise for us is completely affordable.”

Turnover

One striker explained that he has worked at the college for 20 years. “There is a very high turnover of staff in my department,” he said. “They won’t give out permanent contracts. As soon as you learn someone’s name, they vanish.”

Workers are demanding a pay rise and also fighting for better contracts for hourly paid lecturers. Thursday’s strike coincided with the first GCSE exam – and strikers were clear that targeting exam days can have more of an impact.

Strikers said that management have brought in agency workers to invigilate exams, which could be illegal.

Andy Wilson, CEO of Capital City College Group, bemoaned the “impact on students” of strikes in a recent letter to staff. But the idea that rich college bosses care about students’ education is laughable.

Their attacks on staff have a direct impact on students. Several strikers pointed out that high staff turnover is bad for students’ education.

Carly is the UCU coordinating committee secretary at the college. “This is our seventh strike day and we have had solid picket lines throughout,” she said. “The determination of members is getting stronger.”

She added that the strikes have been “effective”. “After every piece of action there’s been movement on the issue of contracts,” she explained. “At first the college said it would put everyone working over 12 hours a week on a fractional contract after four years. Then it was after three years. Then they removed the strings that were attached.”

The idea that rich college bosses care about students’ education is laughable

But she added that bosses have been “intransigent” over pay. Strikers were furious that Wilson had offered a one-off payment of £400 instead of a pay rise.

“We’ve already lost more than that through the strikes,” one picket pointed out.

Workers plan a four-day strike from Tuesday 5 June. More action can force the bosses to pay up. “The top people are getting pay rises,” complained one striker. “This is about pay and conditions, but it’s an expression of discontent with the Tory government.

“We need to take action, otherwise management have got carte blanche to roll all over us.”

For a full list of forthcoming college strikes go to ucu.org.uk/FEfightsback

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