From education to employment

“Slap in the Face” Pay Offer Will See Lecturers Take Industrial Action

The rumbling disagreement over pay deals in Further Education Colleges looks set to erupt into a full blown argument as the members of the University and College Lecturers” Union, NATFHE, look set to strike.

The strike that looms on the horizon could affect provision across the country. It is expected that colleges could in effect remain closed for most of a week, should the planned industrial action to be taken by UNISON over pensions for their members take place. The action is set to take place on the 2nd and 3rd of May after the members of the executive committee of NATFHE voted in favour of going out on strike.

The Ongoing Dispute

This is the latest in a long ““ running dispute between the unions responsible for representing the interests of those working within FE and the Association of Colleges (AoC) representing the interests of the colleges. A previous pay deal for 2003 / 2005 has yet to be fully implemented, with only 57% of colleges having fully met the terms of that agreement. NATFHE members also went on strike last year over the failure of colleges to fully meet the agreed terms, including a one day nation ““ wide strike coinciding with the visit of Secretary of State for Education Ruth Kelly MP to the AoC Annual Conference in November.

The problem of pay is exacerbated by the lack of parity in pay between the school sector and FE colleges. The lecturers” school ““ based counterparts were given a 3.2% pay rise last year, as compared with the 2.8% on offer to the already lower paid FE college lecturers. This year, NATFHE decided to take a strong stand and demanded a 7% pay rise for 2006 / 2007, as well as a retrospective implementation of previous pay deals that have yet to be honoured in full.

The eventual offer from the AoC was a pay rise of only 1.5%, with the AoC citing financial difficulties amongst their college members as the reason. This “pay rise” is in effect a pay cut, as this is not only below the rate of inflation but is also an entire percentage point beneath that offered to schoolteachers from September 2006. The unions have described the 1.5% offer as a “slap in the face” and “insulting”, and have voted for strike action in an effort to take a strong stance before the next round of talks.

Reasonable Offer

Barry Lovejoy, the Head of Colleges at NATFHE, said: “Our reasonable offer to resolve this dispute [offering longer term and phased implementation plans to avoid a one off lump sum increase to the wage bill] has been scorned by the employers. We have no option but to send out a robust response that college staff will not be ignored. This will be the start of a programme of escalating industrial action up to and including indefinite strike action.

“A healthy college is one where staff morale and motivation is high,” he continued, “but a 1.5% pay offer sends out the message to staff that they are not worth investing in. Lecturers at some colleges are still waiting for pay increases that were due in August 2004 ““ almost two years ago. With the White Paper on education now hailing colleges as key to improving the economy, surely the sector should pull together to pressure the government for better funding? But instead, the employers have chosen to declare battle with college staff yet again.”

The dispute is sure to continue, with the two sides a great distance apart in their positions. On the one hand, it is vital that colleges offer their lecturers a fair pay increase and honour pay agreements if they are to retain the best staff and thus fulfil the Government’s mission for FE, to drive forward the skills agenda. On the other hand, that agenda will collapse to the ground if indefinite strike action comes to pass. It can only be hoped that a resolution is reached swiftly, before FE colleges are left ghost towns with lecturers on strike and students at home.

Jethro Marsh

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