Strikes at eleven colleges in England could be on the cards as industrial action ballots opened today (Monday) for members of the University and College Union (@UCU).

Ten ballots are over pay.

A separate ballot at Capital City College Group is over pay, working conditions, and compulsory redundancies.

The ballots close on Wednesday 14 July.

The dispute is over college bosses’ refusal to make a decent pay offer to staff.

The pay gap between college and school teachers currently stands at £9,000 as staff working in further education have suffered real terms pay cuts of over 30% in the past decade.

After years of UCU’s joint campaigning with employers, further education (FE) won £400m of increased government funding, £224m of which arrived in August 2020 and could have been used for staff pay. However, this year employer body Association of Colleges recommended a pay offer of just 1%.

At ten of the colleges, UCU is demanding a pay increase of greater than 5% in an effort to close the school-college pay gap, and after more than a decade of below inflation FE pay increases.

Staff at Capital City Colleges Group in London are also being balloted today in a separate claim over pay, working conditions, and compulsory redundancies.

The college is trying to make over 30 staff redundant, whilst reportedly investing millions into new ‘teacherless’ training.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:

‘Employers have millions more in the bank after government investment, so staff should not have to threaten to strike to be paid fairly. Colleges across England need to urgently offer staff a decent pay increase to avoid disruption.

‘College staff have seen their pay cut by over 30% in real terms and we are supporting members to vote ‘YES’ in a ballot to take strike action in the autumn. Strong, properly funded further education is central to creating a fairer society, and is more important than ever as we come out of the recent pandemic. Thriving colleges can help tackle social, economic and regional inequalities, allowing people to upskill and return to education. There is plenty of time to resolve these disputes before any student is affected.

‘The UK government talks of ‘levelling up’ and ‘building back better’ but if these slogans are going to have any actual substance, we need investment in our colleges and staff.’

The ten colleges being balloted over pay are:

  1. City College Plymouth 
  2. City of Bristol College 
  3. City of Liverpool College 
  4. Croydon College 
  5. Lambeth College 
  6. Sheffield College 
  7. South Thames Colleges Group
  8. Swindon New College  
  9. Truro & Penwith College 
  10. Weymouth College 

A ballot has also opened at Capital City College Group over pay, working conditions, and compulsory redundancies.

Investment is urgently needed to ensure fair pay, say AoC as they offer just 1% pay rise to college staff 

3rd Dec 2020: On Thursday 26 November, @AoC_info met with the trade unions of the National Joint Forum (NJF) (@UCU, @unisontheunion, @NEUnion, @GMB_union and @Unitetheunion) to consult with them formally on the 2020/21 Pay Claim.

The formal response to the trade unions is noted in full below:

AoC Employers’ side recognises a strong alignment with the trade union pay claim for 2020/21 and recognises the enormous commitment and effort that staff have made to supporting students, delivering teaching and learning and helping to keep staff and students safe during the pandemic. The college sector has once again shown how vital it is to our society and college staff have stepped up to the challenges as they always do.

We are in full agreement with the trade unions that pay in the Further Education sector has fallen significantly behind other comparative sectors, due to a decade of chronic Government underfunding. Investment is urgently needed to ensure fair pay for the staff who work so hard in the sector to ensure the future skills’ needs of the country.

Sector financial pressures remain considerable and even without Covid, these should not be underestimated. Despite tough and challenging circumstances, we would have hoped to have been able to offer a better pay recommendation – but the ongoing precarious situation caused by the pandemic means this is not possible in the current year.

The pandemic has changed everything. Colleges are now facing severe financial pressure that have forced many into deficit and severe financial strain. The ESFA informed the Public Accounts Committee this week that there are 64 colleges requesting cashflow support already, and the costs of Covid are rising. On top of those additional costs, colleges have suffered a significant loss of revenue from commercial activity, fee income, apprenticeships, which has only been partially offset by the limited additional funding made available by Government for 16-18 education.

The Covid-19 crisis has brought great uncertainty in terms of income and expenditure for every college, and employers everywhere. Yet during the pandemic, colleges went to significant lengths to safeguard jobs and protect staff income, going beyond minimum requirements for instance by paying full salaries for those on furlough and redeploying staff to avoid redundancies to show their commitment to staff.

For the last two years college leaders have stood shoulder to shoulder with staff and unions to fight for better funding to be able to fairly reward staff. We want adequate funding so that colleges can match the Government commitment to schools to ensure that the starting salary for FE teachers is in line with the proposed £30,000 starting salary of schoolteachers. We want to adopt the Foundation Living Wage as the minimum rate of pay across the FE Sector. We would propose that we set up a commission, as a matter of urgency, that reviews the cost of implementing these actions, quantifies the funding required and makes a clear statement on the value we place on FE staff.

We strongly believe that these two significant pieces of work need to be developed at pace and concluded by March in order to provide evidence to next Spring’s Budget. We call upon the FE Joint Trade Unions to work with the AoC and its officers in this campaign.

In this context, we are making a pay recommendation for 2020/2021 of 1%, or £250 (whichever is the greater). We will strongly advise that those colleges who can afford to award staff more should do so, whilst we must acknowledge that some colleges may be unable to meet this recommendation.

It is disappointing and regrettable that the sector is unable to afford a better offer at this time. However, we believe the reasons are well understood and documented. Whilst we fully appreciate that this is not what trade unions and staff were hoping for, we believe, that it is more important than ever that we work together to ensure the future of FE.

We would call on union colleagues to work with us to secure a better pay deal for colleges and would invite you to begin that work immediately through gathering evidence to make our collective case for a pay deal which appropriately values staff.

David Hughes, Chief Executive of AoC said:

“Every college leader wants staff to be paid fairly and adequately for the work they do. Covid has shown how committed and hard-working college staff are and leaders are just as committed to campaigning for better college funding. Better funding would allow those longstanding pay issues in our sector to be addressed. A decade of neglect and funding cuts have devastated the financial health of the sector.

"As clearly stated by so many recent reports, including the Commission for the College of the Future, there does need to be serious government investment to allow pay to catch up. In the short term we are still pressing government to deal with current exceptional costs due to the pandemic and student number growth. I want us to continue to campaign with the unions to make this case, because together our voice is stronger.”

Gerry McDonald, AoC Interim Chair and CEO New City College said:

“The pay recommendation we have made is regrettably the only affordable offer AoC can make on behalf of the college sector given the sharp reduction in college income as a result of Covid-19. This ongoing instability means anything further at this time is not possible and we know that the first priority for colleges will be to protect jobs.

"We are committed to working with our union colleagues to improve funding for further education and are clear in saying that staff in our sector deserve a better settlement than we are able to afford this year.”

Time has come for significant pay rise in further education, say UCU

24th Nov 2020: The University and College Union (UCU) has called for colleges to recommend a significant increase in staff pay for 2020/21. The union made the call in a letter to all English college principals ahead of Thursday’s (26 November) pay talks with the Association of Colleges (AoC), the body that represents English colleges.  

UCU and its sister unions submitted a pay claim last month, which included a demand for a significant move towards full restoration of college pay levels to match inflation since 2009. The unions make clear college staff have suffered a real-term pay cut of 30% since 2009. In that time funding for further education was slashed by almost half and over 24,000 teaching staff have left the sector.

This year, for the first time in a decade, colleges saw a significant funding increase of £400m, this was followed by a £2.5bn National Skills Fund to support adults with retraining. The government has also set out plans for a major expansion of further education as part of the post-Covid recovery. UCU said the increases in government funding must lead to an offer of a significant staff pay increase in Thursday’s meeting. 

UCU head of further education Andrew Harden said:

"We have written to all English college principals demanding they finally meet staff demands for a pay rise after more than a decade of real-term pay cuts.

"Further education has borne the brunt of Tory austerity and seen funding almost slashed in half. Now the government has finally realised that colleges will be essential to the post-Covid recovery and significant investment has been injected into the sector. But we have 24,000 fewer lecturers than a decade ago, and teaching in further education is not as attractive following a 30% real-term pay cut over the last decade.

"At Thursday’s meeting, the AoC needs to recommend a significant boost in staff pay to restore pay levels to retain and hire the staff that will provide the post-Covid recovery."

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