College strikes

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Striking UCU lecturers on the picket line at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London in Tottenham yesterday

‘WE ARE taking action as part of national co-ordinated action for a pay rise of at least 5%,’ Julia Roberts, Lambeth University and College Union (UCU) Branch Secretary, told News Line on the strong picket at Lambeth College yesterday morning, with students there in support.

Lecturers were also out at Lambeth, Westminister Kingsway in Kings Cross, Conel College in Tottenham, and City and Islington. They are out on strike again today with more colleges joining the strike in early October.
Roberts continued: ‘Across the last decade pay has dropped by 30%. We have fallen behind teachers in primary and secondary education.
‘The government has shown a complete lack of interest in Further Education. We play a very important role, helping people who, for one reason or another, don’t do well in school, or want to advance their education later on in life.
‘The government is treating FE colleges as businesses, not as a public service. Cutting people’s pay is demoralising for staff and doesn’t encourage new people to come into the profession. Already the average age is quite high. What happens when people leave and no-one is trained up to replace them?
‘We are fighting for the future of Further Education itself.’
Another picket, Leonie Thomas, a Learning Support Assistant, said: ‘We are striking for a good cause.
‘1% is not enough, and they’ve limited us to that. We have been 10 years without a proper pay rise. They say the finance is not there, but they have the money when they want to.
‘We have students with special needs and many of our members carry out the role of carers as well as teachers.’
Ayse Barton said: ‘I’m a student here and I’m here to support the lecturers. They don’t get rewarded properly for the work they do. I think my whole class should come out in support.’
At City and Islington college on the Holloway Road, Andrew Baldwin, a lecturer there, told News Line on the picket: ‘We’re striking over  three things; first is pay, we know things go up in price and we were promised a pay rise but we haven’t had one in three years and we know how inflation has gone up.
‘The second issue is workload. Where redundancies have been made, teachers have had to take over the duties with no remission or extra hours. The third issue is obstruction policy which has caused a lot of stress amongst staff.’
UCU lecturers at the College of North East London joined the 10 day nation-wide strike with a 20-strong picket in Tottenham.
The issue of a derisory 1% pay offer amid soaring inflation and fuel bills was not the only cause as lecturers are enraged at ever-increasing workloads and management’s new open-ended and continuous teaching assessment policy intended to drive up ‘efficiency’.
Reza Orak, a UCU maths lecturer, said: ‘I’m on strike to defend my rights and for a better salary. The workload is crazy beyond capability and there is no respect for teachers. We want better quality teaching and learning. Jobs needed in society, like hairdressers, engineers, plumbers and construction workers come from FE colleges.
‘We need a better government. It wants lorry drivers to come back but they refuse because of the low pay. I agree with a general strike to oppose the government and take them out.’
UCU striker Shirley Pereira said: ‘The new teaching assessment policy is stressful, meaningless and increases lack of trust. Staff can be picked on and targeted, with increased monitoring, observations and increased stress.
‘In the pandemic everything is off the table. But to impose more observations would make us attend more meetings in our own time. It’s exploitation. FE is an underfunded Cinderella service but we have to stop management’s “command and control” culture.’
UCU lecturer Emily Eustace, who teaches 14-16 year-old KS4 students with special educational needs, said: ‘The new teaching assessment policy is hugely disruptive for students with complex needs. They include looked-after children and others with behavioural issues. Unfamiliar people coming into their classrooms really affects them badly.
‘The college should be run for education, not as a business. It should be nationalised and free and the government should be kicked out.’
At the picket at Kingsway College, Carol Ezeji, who teaches in the science department, said: ‘The reason we are striking is over the management decision to observe teachers without prior warning. They have broken the pay rise agreement which they agreed with staff three years ago. Staff welfare does not exist, there is no support for staff.’
Baber Hafiz, who teaches maths, said: ‘We are striking because of conditions and our workers’ rights. With employees who are on insecure contracts, their rights are very limited. Teachers are not paid holidays or sick pay, in some cases staff have been coming in every day for five years.
‘They only get paid when they are physically in front of students. If they are sick they don’t get paid. Everyone deserves a secure contact, so that they can feed their families.’
Westminster Kingsway College UCU branch chair Regi Pilling said: ‘We’re on strike today because management completely devalue us. They have failed to produce even a minimum of a pay increase. In reality we are facing major pay cuts due to increasing inflation.’
Westminster Kingsway UCU branch secretary Sarah Baillie said: ‘We’re also fighting casualisation. Hourly-paid staff are not being given full contracts. There’s been a breakdown in negotiations, introduction of new policies without agreement with the union. This is causing great anxiety and is open to abuse. We’re out two days this week, three days next week and five days the week afterwards.’
On the picket at South Thames college in Tooting. lecturer Kate Turney said: ‘It’s important people are aware FE exists and our least privileged students get a good education. Pay for teachers has stagnated over the last ten years and we haven’t had a pay increase. Teachers are very committed and work very hard.’