From education to employment

Strike ballot opens today at colleges across England over low pay

Jo Grady, UCU general secretary

Strikes at 33 colleges in England could be on the cards as industrial ballots opened today (Tuesday) in a dispute over low pay, unmanageable workloads and professional respect [NOTE 1]. The ballot closes on Friday 15 July.

The dispute is between University and College Union (UCU) members and college employers. Employer representative, the Association of Colleges (AoC), recommended employers raise pay by a paltry 2.25% for 2022/23 and refused to endorse UCU’s call for colleges to become accredited Living Wage employers [NOTE 2]. The Retail Price Index puts current levels of inflation at 11.1%. Since 2009 college staff have seen their pay fall behind inflation by more than 35% and three in four (76%) college staff say their workload has increased significantly over the past three years [NOTE 3].

In March (when RPI was 7.8%), college unions jointly submitted a claim for a pay rise of 10% on all points with a minimum uplift of £2000, for all colleges to become accredited Foundation Living Wage Employers and for significant movement toward agreements on workload in colleges.

After years of joint campaigning by UCU and the AoC, in 2021 the Westminster government announced an 8.4% increase in funding targeted at those in England aged 16-17 years old, the biggest rise in funding for further education in more than decade and coming after £240m in additional funding came into effect in 2020-21. UCU members have won pay rises at colleges across England over the previous year’s pay offer. These include recent offers worth up to 7.5% at Hopwood Hall College and 6% at Bury College, as well as wins at other colleges across England.

The union estimates that the extra funding means colleges now have an additional £400m that is completely free to spend on staff compared with 2019-20.

The strike ballots are part of the union’s Respect FE campaign that aims to improve the pay and conditions of staff in further education. The union has launched a petition urging the AoC and colleges to sign up to a charter for professional respect in further education.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:

‘A pay offer of 2.25% is so far below inflation that it will push many college staff into poverty. That combined with a refusal to recommend colleges become Living Wage employers is a complete betrayal. We campaigned alongside employers for greater government funding on the basis that when that funding arrived it would be used to address the low pay that blights further education. Thanks to our campaigning, the money from Westminster is now here. Colleges need to use the biggest increase in funding they have seen in more than a decade to prioritise staff.’

‘Our members must not pay the price of sky high inflation. We will not accept staff having pay held down whilst the cost of putting petrol in the tank, heating the home and feeding loved ones soars. With three in four staff also facing dangerously high workloads we have no choice but to proceed to a ballot for strike action.’

The colleges being balloted are:

  1. Abingdon and Witney College
  2. Bath College
  3. Blackburn College
  4. Bournemouth and Poole College
  5. Bournville College of FE
  6. Bridgwater and Taunton College
  7. Carlisle College
  8. Chichester College Group – Chichester
  9. Chichester College Group – Crawley
  10. City College Plymouth
  11. City of Bristol College
  12. Croydon College
  13. Derby College
  14. East Sussex Cllege Group – Hastings
  15. East Sussex College Group (SDC)
  16. Exeter College
  17. Halesowen College
  18. Hereward College of FE
  19. Lambeth College
  20. Lewisham College – Deptford
  21. Lewisham College – Lewisham Way
  22. New College Swindon
  23. Newcastle College
  24. Sandwell College of FHE
  25. South & City College Birmingham
  26. Southwark College
  27. Sparsholt College Hampshire (inc Andover College)
  28. Strode College
  29. Truro and Penwith College
  30. West Lancashire College
  31. Weston College
  32. Wiltshire College
  33. Yeovil College

[2] Every college is being balloted over the 2022/23 pay claim.  A separate ballot at Barnet and Southgate also opened today over low pay in the previous two financial years, 2020/21 and 2021/22.

[3] UCU conducted a survey between November and December 2021. Further education staff were asked: “Thinking about the pace or intensity you currently work at; do you think this has changed over the last three years?”

Responses    %    Number of responses    
Decreased significantly0.4%10
Decreased slightly1.2%26
Stayed the same5.2%116
Increased slightly16.4%367
Increased significantly76.7%1713
Grand Total    100.0%    2232    

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