Members of the University and College Union (UCU) at ten colleges will take strike action throughout May and June as part of a row over pay. Staff at nine London colleges and Sandwell College in the West Midlands will walk out for up to seven days.
The colleges affected and dates of strikes are:
Hackney Community College 11/14/15 May, Tower Hamlets College 11/14/15 May
Sandwell College 15/16/17/18 May, Epping Forest College 17 May
Lewisham Southwark College 22/23 May, Lambeth College 22/23/24 May
City and Islington College 23/24/25 May and 5/6/7/8 June, College of Haringey Enfield and North East London 23/24/25 May and 5/6/7/8 June, Westminster Kingsway College 23/24/25 May and 5/6/7/8 June, Havering College 5/7/8/12 June
The strikes follow a below-inflation pay offer of 1% from the employer representative, the Association of Colleges, in September 2017 and the refusal of any of the colleges concerned to make a further acceptable offer. UCU said that FE staff had suffered years of pay suppression and have seen their pay drop by 25% in real-terms since 2009. This is the third wave of strikes in the dispute over pay, with staff at many of the affected colleges having already walked out in February and March. At some colleges the dispute also includes concerns about working conditions including holiday entitlement, workload and observation policies.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: ‘UCU members at these colleges are resolute in their fight for better pay and conditions. ‘Strike action is always a last resort, but in the face of repeated below-inflation pay awards, staff feel they have been left with no other option. ‘The colleges need to urgently address members’ concerns if they want to avoid further disruption to students in the coming weeks.’
Staff at the Hull College Group walk out on strike on Wednesday this week over plans to slash jobs.
Members of the UCU at the college’s Hull and Harrogate campuses were on picket lines from 7am.
In Hull, striking staff at the Cannon Street and Queens Gardens sites ran a programme of teach-outs, with activities ranging from Tai Chi and cookery to plumbing and motor vehicle checks.
The row centres on plans to cut 231 full-time equivalent posts across the college group’s three campuses in Hull, Harrogate and Goole. UCU says the proposals would lead to around a third of the workforce being cut and fewer learning opportunities for local people. A further two days of strike action are planned for next Thursday and Friday, 17 and 18 May. UCU members recently delivered a damning vote of no confidence in chief executive officer Michelle Swithenbank.
The union said her position was untenable after a failure to defend jobs at the college, as well as efforts to bully and then bribe staff not to attend a protest against the running of the college.
It took the college four days to issue a statement backing the beleaguered head.
UCU regional official, Julie Kelley, said: ‘Strike action is always a last resort, but staff at the Hull College Group feel they have been left with no alternative in order to defend jobs and educational opportunities. ‘The proposed job cuts will be deeply damaging for current students and for the future availability of education for local people. ‘To avoid further unnecessary disruption to students, the college needs to call an urgent halt to these proposals and work with UCU to explore better alternatives.’ In the recent strike ballot, 79% of the staff who voted at the college’s three campuses in Hull, Harrogate and Goole backed strike action.
UCU members at Bradford College have also given their backing to strike action in a dispute over plans to cut jobs and change contracts. Eight-eight per cent of members who voted backed strike action on a turnout of 61 per cent.
UCU said the strong mandate for strike action should focus the college on working with the union to resolve the dispute and avoid serious disruption. The union added that if the college refused to engage then it would announce strike dates.
Bradford College has announced plans to cut 75 jobs as part of an effort to tackle a funding deficit after the college was issued with a financial notice to improve in March. UCU regional official, Julie Kelley, said: ‘Bradford College can be in no doubt about how angry their staff are at plans to cut jobs.
‘Strike action is always a last resort, but staff clearly feel they have been left with no alternative. ‘We hope the colleges will respond positively to these strong mandates for action and work with us to resolve matters without the need for disruption.’
Seventeen college principals earned over £200,000 in 2016/17, while over a third enjoyed a pay rise of 10% or more, new figures have revealed. Commenting on the latest college accounts from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), UCU accused college principals of being ‘greedy and hopelessly out of touch’ on pay and said that mergers were no excuse for inflating leadership pay.
The union also said the fact that several colleges – including the likes of Hull College Group and Bradford College who are currently planning huge job cuts – were not included in the data raised serious concerns about accountability.
UCU leader Hunt said: ‘College principals who pocket huge pay rises while pleading poverty on staff pay look greedy and hopelessly out of touch. ‘Many of the worst offenders are at recently merged colleges, but we are clear that mergers are no excuse for inflating senior pay.
‘The fact that several colleges are not included in the data also raises serious questions about accountability to students and taxpayers. ‘We urgently need much greater transparency in how senior pay is decided to ensure that leaders at all colleges can be held to account.’