College staff to join picket lines from next week in row over pay

Staff at Halesowen College will be joining a picket line next week in a row over pay amid the cost-of-living crisis, union bosses have announced.

Halesowen College
Halesowen College

University and College Union (UCU) has confirmed that around 4,000 staff at 29 colleges will take up to 10 days of strike action starting next week.

Staff at 19 colleges across England, including Halesowen College, will join picket lines on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday next week, and there will be further strike action across three weeks in October.

Workers at Sandwell Council are also set to strike from October 6.

UCU says it is demanding employers make a pay offer that reflects the soaring costs college staff currently face.

The union says that since 2009 pay in further education has fallen behind inflation by 35 per cent and the pay gap between school and college teachers stands at around £9,000.

In June, employer representative the Association of Colleges made a pay recommendation of 2.5 per cent.

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 and restrict hot water use to save money.

Seven in 10 said they will leave the sector unless pay and working conditions improve.

The Department for Education has announced £1.6bn in extra funding for further education and UCU estimates that colleges already have an additional £400m that is available to spend on staff compared with 2019-20.

UCU is also balloting staff at 150 universities including over low pay.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: "Strike action on this scale in further education is unprecedented. But our members have been left with no other option, they are being pushed into poverty by college bosses who refuse to raise pay to help them meet the cost-of-living crisis.

"College staff deliver excellent education but over the last 12 years their pay has fallen behind inflation by 35 per cent and now thousands are skipping meals, restricting energy use and considering leaving the sector altogether.

"This strike action will continue for 10 days unless college bosses wake up to this crisis, stop dining off the goodwill of their workforce and make a serious pay offer."

In a statement Halesowen College said it respected "individual choice; including the right to take action on issues such as the cost-of-living crisis that are affecting families throughout our community", and that it continues to work with union representatives.

"Our core purpose to provide exceptional education, training and support for our students remains. During this time, we will adapt and continue to support students and enable them to learn," the college said.

"Students may attend college as normal next week and, if their lessons are impacted by the strike, will be able to work in our resource centres and in designated classrooms using a range of digital learning resources. These resources are also available to use from home. Whilst on site students will still be able to access our support and welfare services.

"We understand the financial landscape and wish to make a really meaningful pay award to our staff – however, this must be affordable. Our college, and the whole FE Sector, requires additional funding to be able to address the financial pressures faced by our staff and create parity of wage with the schools sector.

Andy Dobson, Principal added: “College staff deserve the sort of pay increase that colleges simply don’t have the money to pay. There are things that the government can do about this – by increasing the funding rates and by giving colleges the same VAT exemptions that benefit schools”.

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