NO PAY FREEZE! demands national college strike

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Enthusiastic UCU pickets at Hammersmith College in West London
Enthusiastic UCU pickets at Hammersmith College in West London

UNIVERSITY and College Union (UCU) members were taking strike action against massive Tory attacks on their pay yesterday.

Pickets declared themselves angry that the employers’ representatives, the Association of Colleges, have recommended a pay freeze, despite staff suffering a real-terms pay cut of 17.1 per cent in the last five years. Three-quarters (74 per cent) of UCU members voted to back strike action after the employers rejected the joint trade unions’ pay claim of £1 an hour extra for staff.

After attending picket lines from 8.00am, staff in London made their way to Westminster for a rally at the Emmanuel Centre which started at 1.00pm. In the West Midlands UCU members attended a rally at the Birmingham and Midland Institute. UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt said on Monday: ‘UCU members are sick of the employers’ refusal to deal with the real-terms pay cuts that have blighted the sector.

‘For the Association of Colleges to recommend that all of their members freeze staff pay this year was a real insult. Members who voted gave a clear mandate for strike action and we will be taking action tomorrow. We hope the employers will now come back to the table.’

UCU members formed picket lines at every college around the country on Tuesday. A strong contingent of lecturers manned picket lines outside Lewisham College yesterday morning.

Joe Wilkes, an English Lecturer teaching ESOL at Lewisham College, said: ‘I teach English to 16 to 18-year-olds who speak English as a second language, mostly from the Middle East or other countries, and who are brilliant.

‘It’s a £1 per hour pay increase the UCU are asking for all lecturers across the country. It is a national strike, everyone is out today because we haven’t had a pay rise for six years. We have effectively been having a pay decrease, over those six years our wages haven’t gone up even with inflation. So £1 per hour for everyone is a very simple demand. We need strikes and occupations, and even teach-ins, and to get the students out with us. There are students inside there sitting in empty classrooms.’

Michael Blanke, a retired lecturer and UCU member, spoke to News Line from the picket line: ‘I think the craziest thing you can possible do in times of economic problems is to cut education. Education is the one thing we depend on for the future. It’s just completely insane what this Tory government has been doing – or for that matter what all governments have been doing, since 2008 when the economic crisis first started.

‘I have worked in Education and Qualifications for a long time. I’ve seen good qualifications being ruined. These governments have never stopped mucking about with the education system and it is about time that we gave young people a chance – gave them a decent education and actually thought about this country’s future. With the Junior Doctors coming out the strike action should be coordinated, not just one union at a time fighting on its own. There are many unions up against problems now, there should be proper coordinated action. We shouldn’t have one union calling off their strike on a particular day. We should have joint union action on the same day.’

Noel Murphy, UCU Branch Secretary Barnet and Southgate College, said on the picket line: ‘My personal view is that it would be better for coordinated industrial strike action in the public sector.’ On the picket line in Islington, Centre of Business, Arts and Technology UCU member Anna Courcha was angry at college management’s attempt to move the pickets.

She said: ‘We’ve been told by the Centre to move away from the college and told to take down our posters. We pointed out that we are on a public right of way. If we were not on an official picket line, we’d be able to stand here. Well we’re still here. For the twenty years I’ve been working at this college, it’s the first time I’ve come across this situation. How can you have a picket if you’re not in front of the building? We resent being treated in this way.’

Meanwhile, UCU has responded to analysis of adult education budgets published by the House of Commons library that suggests a third of further education colleges could be under threat. UCU warned that further government cuts could be the final nail in many courses and would shut the door on many learners who use adult education as a springboard for improving their skills.

The union stated that there is a danger that these cuts will lead to a narrower curriculum and leave many students high and dry if their aspirations don’t match local economic priorities. UCU leader Hunt said: ‘The current cuts to adult education budgets are a devastating blow to colleges and will change the face of further education in many parts of the country. Funding for adult skills has already fallen 35 per cent since 2009, and the latest reductions could be the final nail in the coffin for some courses.

‘Not everyone needs or wants to study an apprenticeship, but colleges are being forced to prioritise apprenticeships over other kinds of learning. This will shut the door on many learners who use adult education as a springboard for improving their skills. On top of the reduction in budgets, the focus on rationalisation and efficiency through area reviews can only lead to a narrower curriculum and risks leaving many students high and dry if their aspirations don’t match local economic priorities.

‘Colleges need stable investment to continue to help people of all backgrounds fulfil their potential.’

UCU members in further education colleges were on strike all over the country yesterday.

• Private school staff are not getting long enough breaks and are working longer hours, according to a recent Association of Teachers and Lecturers poll. This found that 41 per cent of teachers in independent schools are only getting a 20 minute uninterrupted lunch break during their working day of six or more hours. A 20 minute break means they are getting less than ATL’s recommendation of a break of 40 minutes.

Anecdotally, many respondents stated that, in principle, they get a 20 minute break but in practice this isn’t the case, with many expected to run extra-curricular clubs and activities during their breaks or supervise children while eating. Many also said they are expected to attend departmental meetings during their break time.

A female teacher from the Midlands stated: ‘I find it necessary to work most lunch-times in order to prepare for the next lesson. I rarely take a break of more than 10 minutes during the day as there is so much to do.’ Similarly, a female teacher from the South-East said she has to: ‘ . . . take a club one lunchtime and be on duty another. I work all through lunch breaks on other days as well.’

A male teacher from the South-West said: ‘Although I get a one-hour lunch break, 45 minutes is spent eating with students.’ Many members also said they are having to work long hours each day, with some working up to 14 hours. Many members reported they simply have to ‘work until the job is done’, no matter how many hours that entails.

Although having no set contracted hours is common practice in the majority of private schools many felt working such long days is too much. A female teacher from the South-East said: ‘We are expected to offer extra-curricular and student support as needed. ‘We do not have any set hours apart from what is timetabled. I regularly work 60 hours a week and quite often more. Weekend working is a regular event. I like my job but would like to get to a holiday and not feel like I might collapse.’

A male teacher from Sussex said: ‘I am obliged to fulfil at least 49 contracted hours a week. Sport and co-curricular involvement mean that I regularly work a seven-day week of 12 plus hours Monday-Saturday and four to five hours on a Sunday.’

A female teacher from the South-East said: ‘I feel the time I spend in school and working at home in the evenings and on my afternoons off does not equate to the pay I receive. It greatly concerns me that I am not earning anywhere near what I consider fair pay for the work I do.’

A female teacher from the Midlands said: ‘Excessive workload and pressure just gets worse every year. I’m considering leaving teaching after 21 years.’

The poll also found that 66 per cent of respondents do not receive any additional allowances or payments for extra work carried out.