Staff at The Manchester College are being balloted for strike action in a long running dispute over low pay amid the cost of living crisis.
The ballot is taking place to renew the University and College Union’s (UCU) strike mandate. UCU members will begin receiving their ballot papers today (Tuesday) and the ballot will run until Monday 12 December.
Staff at the college have already won a ballot but restrictive trade union laws mean their mandate must be renewed. Despite staff having taken eight days of strike actions so far, the college is refusing to increase salaries any further than a derisory 1% consolidated pay award alongside a one off payment equal to 1% for 21/22. For 22/23 the college is only offering just 2.7% for those earning over £33k or 4.5% plus a one payment equal to 1% for those earning £33k or less.
The union is demanding a pay award of 10% with a minimum uplift of £2k for 22/23 to help staff cope during the cost of living crisis. Its members at Manchester College have already twice rejected management’s previous offers and RPI inflation has now hit 14.2%.
The college’s accounts show its parent company has £33.5m in the bank, more than double what it projected at the start of the financial year. UCU is in talks with management at ACAS and these will continue whilst the ballot proceeds.
UCU members at Hopwood Hall in Rochdale have recently won a deal worth 9.2% for most lecturers. And UCU members in prison education employed under the same parent company as Manchester College recently accepted a deal worth 8.4% for the lowest paid and 5% to 6% for most members.
This summer, UCU produced a report that shows 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, use food banks and restrict hot water use to save money. Seven in 10 said they will leave the sector unless pay and working conditions improve.
UCU regional official Martyn Moss said:
‘The derisory pay offer Manchester College has made to our members is pushing them into poverty. It is completely unacceptable during a cost of living crisis for management to hoard tens of millions in cash whilst staff are being forced to use food banks.
We have already seen the college’s sister company make UCU members an offer worth up to 8.4% so we know the money is there to treat staff fairly. We hope the college sees sense and uses ACAS to make us an offer that will allow our members to keep the heating on this winter. If it refuses to do so this ballot will continue and the college risks further disruption.’
A spokesperson for LTE Group commented:
“We are acutely aware of the challenges that the cost-of-living crisis is causing for our valued colleagues. We are committed to continuing discussions with the unions under the auspices of ACAS so that we can pass on a pay rise to staff as soon as possible.
“Along with other employers, we are operating in a challenging financial environment: LTE Group income for 2022 is significantly below what was originally planned, largely due to changes created by Covid 19. At the same time, in the last year our energy bills and other costs have increased exponentially. However, we are keen to award our hard-working staff a pay rise which is affordable and does not jeopardise the long-term financial health and stability of the Group.
“Our different units within the Group operate with separate funding streams which cannot be used to cross-subsidise one another. The unions have highlighted the amount of funding in the Group’s financial reserves. This pot of money has reduced significantly during Covid 19 and is there to safeguard the Group’s future in the event of unexpected financial issues. Our funders require us to demonstrate that we are able to manage current and future financial liabilities.”