From education to employment

Failure to negotiate pay parity has led Northern Ireland’s lecturers into action

College lecturers in Northern Ireland yesterday supported their union’s calls for strike action as teaching “virtually ceased” for the fourth time in recent weeks.

In a long-running dispute over parity of pay with schoolteachers, the strike happened in addition to a withdrawal of goodwill across the colleges and a lunchtime picket outside the Department for Employment and Learning’s (DEL) Belfast headquarters.

Jim McKeown, University and College Union (UCU) regional official in Northern Ireland, said: “Our members are very solidly behind this. They are determined to ensure that they get fair pay and parity with schoolteachers. College lecturers in Northern Ireland are the only group of education workers affected by this so-called “government pay cap”. That is unfair”.

According to a statement released by the UCU, college employers have agreed with lecturers that they should have parity of pay with schoolteachers, with a proposal ready, backdating to September 1st, 2005. The employers say that they need government approval to implement the package.

Mr McKeown continued: “The employers have made no pay offer for this year and government has been sitting for several months on a joint proposal for an upper pay spine similar to that which applies in schools. Decisions on these are long overdue. Our member’s interests are tangled up in government bureaucracy with no end in sight. They are treated like pawns in some government game”.

“This helps nobody. Students are losing out and lecturers are becomingly increasingly alienated from those who run the colleges. This is all at a time when the sector faces massive restructuring and needs the goodwill of its teachers. We need more than “some sympathy” from the Minister. We need a fair settlement – and now”, he added.

And commenting on the crisis, John D”Arcy, Chief Executive of the Association of Northern Ireland Colleges, which represents all 16 FE colleges, said: “College employers remain committed to the improvement of pay for lecturers, which has been agreed by the employers and unions”.

“College employers also continue to impress upon government the need for an immediate resolution to address the current industrial action by FE lecturers”.

“Given that the matter is being progressed by government, college employers believe that the current industrial action is unhelpful as lecturers are losing pay, student learning is being disrupted and there may be long-term financial implications for the FE sector”, he added.

Vijay Pattni.

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