From education to employment

College staff in England to join wave of strike action

teacher looking over students shoulder at work

Staff at 29 colleges in England will join the wave of industrial action sweeping the country after huge numbers voted in favour of strike action, the University and College Union (UCU) announced today (Monday). The ballot result comes after the employers refused to improve a pay offer of just 2.5% in negotiations.

The result, in which 89.9% of UCU members voted YES to strike action on an overall turnout of 57.9%, is the biggest mandate for industrial action across English further education colleges since the 50% turnout threshold was brought into force in 2016.

The 29 colleges will also be joined by four others in the North West and six across London that were balloted separately, bringing the total number of colleges set to be hit by action to 39.

The six colleges in London were balloted over local pay and conditions claims (Barnet & Southgate College 2020/21 & 2021/22, New City College Group 2021/22 & 2022/23). An overwhelming 98.4% of those who voted said yes to strike action at Barnet & Southgate College with a turnout of 77.4%. An overwhelming 89% (88.6) of those who voted said yes to strike action at Hackney, Havering, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets and Epping Forest colleges and the turnout was 65.8%.

The union is demanding the colleges increase pay to meet the cost of living crisis. Employer body the Association of Colleges (AoC) has recommended a pay rise by just 2.5% despite inflation hitting 11.7%. Staff pay has now fallen 35% behind inflation since 2009 after a series of below inflation pay offers. In pay scales drawn up by the AoC, unqualified teachers can earn as little as £21,000 with qualified teachers starting on less than £26,000. Meanwhile, some college bosses earn over £200,000.

This month a UCU report showed that the vast majority of college staff are financially insecure, impacting the mental health of more than eight in 10 with many being forced to skip meals and restrict hot water use to save money.  Seven in 10 said they would leave the sector unless pay and working conditions improve.

The Department for Education (DfE) has announced £1.6bn in extra funding for further education and UCU estimates that colleges already have an additional £400m that is available to spend on staff compared with 2019-20.

Strike action at a number of colleges has been called off after employers made improved pay offers of up to 9%.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:

‘Today, college staff have shown that they are sick and tired of falling pay and have voted overwhelmingly for strike action after employers offered an insulting 2.5% uplift in pay.

‘College workers have had their pay held down so long that the vast majority now face financial insecurity. Yet as the cost of living crisis bites employers want their staff to take a further hit with more below inflation pay rises. This is completely unacceptable and shows exactly why many staff are voting with their feet and choosing to leave the sector altogether.

‘After receiving increased funding from government, colleges now have the money to begin properly paying their staff – and they must do so to avoid disruption when the new academic year begins in September.’

The ballot results of the 29 colleges facing strike action:

Abingdon & Witney College76.958.2
Bath College94.761.3
Blackburn College96.056.8
Bridgwater and Taunton College79.151.9
Chichester College Group, colleges in this employer group: ·Chichester College Group (Crawley) ·Chichester College Group (Chichester)93.557.5
City College Plymouth91.663.6
City of Bristol College93.669.2
Croydon College92.964.8
Derby College93.060.2
Halesowen College82.878.4
Hereward College of FE100.062.5
Lambeth College88.966.1
New College Swindon84.264.7
Newcastle College Group, colleges in this employer group: ·Lewisham College – Lewisham Way ·Lewisham College – Deptford ·Southwark College ·Carlisle College ·Newcastle College ·West Lancashire College93.953.3
Sandwell College of FHE80.656.4
South & City College Birmingham, colleges in this employer group: ·Bournville College of FE ·South & City College Birmingham94.454.1
Sparsholt College Hampshire (Inc Andover College)85.766.7
Strode College92.362.7
Truro & Penwith College90.852.0
Weston College80.553.8
Wiltshire College90.469.5
Yeovil College85.756.0

Sector Response

David Hughes, AoC chief executive said:

“It is disappointing that unions are intent on strike action in the autumn at a small number of colleges, particularly because of the impact it might have on students keen to start their studies. I would urge the unions and their members to avoid disruption during the important recruitment period at the start of term. This would be counterproductive as anything which decreases the number of enrolled students would impact on colleges ability to increase staff pay.

Having said that, the cost of living crisis is biting hard for college staff, as it is for their students, the colleges themselves and many others in society. That’s why we continue to work hard to persuade the new ministerial team at the DfE of the urgency in winning more funding and giving flexibilities with existing budgets to boost college staff pay. We will continue to make the case for improving staff pay as it is vital for colleges to be able to retain and recruit their teaching talent.”

Government set to introduce new legislation to allow temporary agency staff to cover striking workers

Lifting the ban on agency workers during strikes is “a recipe for disaster”

  • TUC slams “reckless” decision to lift the ban on agency workers during industrial action as “a threat to public safety”
  • Unions, industry bodies and Lords committee all criticise plans
  • Ministers are weakening workers’ ability to bargain for higher wages across the economy, says TUC

The TUC has slammed new legislation which will lift the ban on agency workers being used to fill in for workers on strike as “a recipe for disaster” and a “threat to public safety”.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“This is a recipe for disaster. Unions and industry bodies have both warned ministers against these reckless plans.

“Using agency workers to try and break strikes would put these workers in an appalling position, worsen disputes and poison industrial relations.

“Make no mistake. This government wants to undermine the fundamental right to strike by allowing agency workers to be used as strike breakers across the economy.

“And these cynical and ideological laws are a threat to public safety too.

“Bringing in agency staff who haven’t been fully trained to deliver specific roles could put themselves and members of the public at risk.

“At a time when millions are struggling to make ends meet, ministers are using precious parliamentary time to attack workers’ ability to bargain for higher wages.

“This is a government in turmoil, which is spoiling for fight. Ministers should help to de-escalate industrial disputes – not inflaming them.”

On the prospect of huge damages of up to £1 million being claimed from unions if strike action falls foul of industrial action laws, Frances added:

“These plans are based on politics rather than the real problems working people face. They will lead to vexatious cases being pursued by rogue employers against unions.

“Ministers should be working with unions to improve working lives – not looking for new ways to undermine us.”

TUC accused the government of rushing through through legislation

The TUC accused the government of rushing through the new laws and neglecting its obligations around new legislation. 

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