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Scottish government ‘must intervene’ to end college pay dispute, says union

Unison urged ministers to settle the row as college support staff began a second round of strikes.

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Lecturers and other university staff at a previous strike in Glasgow

The Scottish government must “get around the table” to resolve a pay dispute as college staff begin a second round of strikes, a union has said.

College support staff will strike on different days over the next week, with action having begun on Wednesday at Dundee and Angus College, Fife College and Glasgow Clyde College.

Some 2,000 staff, represented by Unison, are taking action over pay, terms and conditions.

Unison representatives will meet with minister for higher and further education Graeme Dey MSP on Thursday at St Andrew’s House, Edinburgh, to demand his intervention in ending strikes across Scotland.

Some 93% of college support staff represented by Unison previously voted to take action over the dispute.

The new strike action follows a national strike in Scottish colleges which took place on September 6.

Despite previous action, Unison says their employers have failed to provide a better pay offer, and now the union is looked for assurances that employers will withdraw threats of compulsory redundancies.

Graeme Dey MSP, pictured in parliament
Minister for higher and further education Graeme Dey MSP was meeting union representatives on Thursday (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The union also warned that unless Mr Dey intervened, strikes would continue into the autumn.

Unison said that low-paid college workers were still awaiting a wage rise which was due more than a year ago.

Unison represents non-teaching staff across Scotland’s colleges, including librarians, IT specialists, technicians, administrative and business support workers, cleaners, canteen employees and estate management staff.

Unison Scottish secretary Lilian Macer said: “The Scottish Government must get around the table and resolve this dispute.

“Ministers are standing idly by while the lowest-paid college workers are still waiting for a pay rise due over a year ago, just as college leaders are threatening huge job cuts.

“This dispute is resolvable, but college employers are out of their depth. The Scottish government must intervene.

“These staff are vital in supporting working people back into the labour market, helping families lift themselves out of poverty, and giving young people a second chance.”

Staff from West Lothian, North Highland and Moray College are to take strike action on Thursday.

On Friday, staff from the Forth Valley, Perth and Inverness colleges will strike, with similar action continuing in different colleges until Thursday October 12.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “While operational decisions on pay and staffing matters are the responsibility of individual colleges, the Scottish Government remains concerned by the impact this current action is having on students and the Minister for Higher and Further Education has made clear his expectation that any decisions must be guided by the principles of Fair Work.

“We continue to urge employers and trade unions to make every effort to reach a settlement which is both fair and affordable with a view of bringing this industrial action to a close.

“The Scottish Government recognises the crucial role that colleges play, which is why we have allocated £787 million in funding for 2023-24, despite the unprecedented financial challenges facing government. The college sector’s resource budget has been increased by over £168 million since 2012-13.”

Gavin Donoghue, director of College Employers Scotland (CES), said: “It is disappointing that Unison is undertaking strike action. Colleges will put in place measures to mitigate the effects of any planned action on their students’ education. To date, turnout for strikes has been low and the vast majority of colleges have remained open.

“CES provided a full and final pay offer to the support staff trade unions (Unison, Unite and GMB) in June for a cumulative £3,500 pay rise. This is a substantial offer which would equate to an average 11% pay increase, and even more for those on lower pay.

“While it is not possible to provide a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies, CES has been clear that colleges will make every effort to manage organisational change through voluntary measures. Compulsory redundancies would only ever be used as a last resort.

“We hope Unison calls off these damaging strikes so colleges can continue to provide the world-class learning experience that students rightly expect and deserve. CES remains open to meeting Unison at any time to avoid further disruptive strikes.”

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