Strike action could tackle place at two Black Country colleges over union pay dispute

Strikes at two colleges in the Black Country could be on the cards after a union balloted its members amid claims over low pay.

Halesowen College
Halesowen College

The dispute is between University and College Union (UCU) members and college employers which involves Sandwell College and Halesowen College and 31 others.

It comes after the not-for-profit employer representative the Association of Colleges (AoC) recommended college employers raise wages by 2.25 per cent for 2022/2023.

Union chiefs said the AoC have refused to endorse its call for colleges to become accredited Living Wage employers and have opened a ballot, which closes on July 15.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: "A pay offer of 2.25 per cent 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 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.

A statement from Halesowen College said: "We are aware that one of our teaching unions will be balloting its members for strike action as part of a national campaign over pay. Halesowen College seeks to recruit, retain, develop and reward our staff and our strategic plan states that we aim to have competitive pay, conditions and other benefits to enable us to attract the strongest candidates for jobs.

"However, like colleges around the country, we are dealing with a situation in which staff salaries, as a result of years of government underfunding, are lower than for equivalent positions in schools and higher education. We also fully appreciate that increases in the cost of living are making things even more difficult for our staff.

"Of course we want to do as much as we can for our staff and discussions about a meaningful pay award for the year ahead are continuing. However, the funding we receive is limited, and we cannot make a pay award that will be unaffordable. The apparent additional funding for 16-18 year-olds in the coming year will be wiped out by the requirement to deliver an equivalent amount of extra teaching, and funding rates for adult learners are not increasing.

"We wish to continue to work with our trade union colleagues around pay, conditions of service and wellbeing. Our shared priority is to continue to provide exceptional education, training and support for young people and adults and we will continue to make the case to government for an increase in our funding for the specific purpose of levelling up pay across the college sector. We have written to our MP to make him aware of our concerns and will continue to work with the Association of Colleges to lobby on this critical issue."

Sandwell College has been contacted for comment.

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