Collectivise the resistance: Covid Safety, Pay and Working Conditions
This year’s rescheduled UCU Further Education Sector Conference (FESC) met on Saturday the 12th of December online via Zoom under the extraordinary conditions of a second wave of Coronavirus.
In addition to the pandemic, 2020 also saw the emergence of a mass movement of the Black Lives Matter movement globally in the wake of the televised murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police. This was reflected in the agenda with a section to discuss advancing UCU’s work on BLM in our workplaces.
The motions passed at the FESC pave the way for a renewed national profile to UCU’s work in the further education sector and a fight back on Covid safety, pay and working conditions.
A number of colleges were in dispute as the FESC met including CCCG on Covid safety, United Colleges Group over their contract, Brighton College defending jobs and Macclesfield College branch.
The meeting began with a 2 minute silence to remember Nita Sanghera UCU FE Vice President.
37 motions were discussed with most carried unopposed or with near unanimity. The conference went much smoother than on previous platforms and conference was able to debate a number of motions not originally ordered onto the agenda.
Unfortunately delegates were asked to notify UCU in advance of their intention to speak to motions. Many delegates expected to be able to raise their hand to speak. This stifled more fluid debate.
Points of order were disallowed and delegates were asked to place their votes a few days after the conference. As the movement learns to use online platforms we need to find more space for discussion and debate to promote democratic processes.
Despite this, the online conference worked well, albeit with room for improvement. The debate reflected the real battles and organisation taking place on the ground to defend safety and conditions. A new emerging leadership of black activists from branches pointed to the potential to revitalise the union’s work in sector and to build a more representative union.
No return to unsafe workplaces in the new year
Over 66,000 people have lost their lives to Covid under the pandemic.
The FESC met following the news of the approval of a vaccine. Whilst this is cause for hope, the reality for those who work and study in Further Education means there could be many months before working conditions are safe or free from instability and stress.
As the spike following the Thanksgiving celebration in the USA and the UK’s Help Out to Eat Out showed. It is almost inevitable there will be a third wave in the New Year.
Rightly, the FESC adopted a motion to implement the strong public stance by UCU on Covid and safe working into the further education sector. This called for online teaching to be the default, to implement UCU’s escalation plan where our colleges are unsafe and to organise an additional national reps meeting on the theme of no return to unsafe workplaces. A second motion called for regular Covid-testing of all staff and students.
Branches will have to come together quickly in the New Year to resist attempts by the employers to roll back on safety measures and ramp up workloads under the optimism of the vaccine and drive to return to ‘normal’.
If branch officers are to feel confident about implementing this motion UCU nationally must be proactive in launching a national campaign over Covid -19, which so far has been missing in the sector.
1% is a slap in the face, the national fight back starts now.
In the week prior to the FESC delegates. UCU members working in further, adult and prison education learnt that the government would implement a pay freeze on public sector workers.
The Association of Colleges (AoC), the employer’s federation, shamefully declared their intention to compound this insult with a 1% pay award in English Colleges. That is despite the Welsh equivalent supporting circa 8% for new starters, and around 3% for main grade lecturers.
After 10 years of implementing austerity and the damage it has done to our sector. Have they learnt nothing?
After we have gone the extra mile to continue to staff the frontlines, deliver remotely through lockdown and risk our health. This is slap in the face and give the lie to all the faint praise and thanks we have received.
UCU’s Andrew Harden, National FE Official, in his report outlined UCU’s campaign to find the #FEMissingMillions of additional money the employers were given this year.
See how much money your college was given here.
Our pay has been cut by 30% under austerity. The employers promised additional funding would go to restore college pay.
In the last pay campaign we secured £400m on additional FE funding and part 2 claims to fractionalise casualised staff were successful in securing permanent contracts on improved pay.
Further Education Committee Officers will meet following the FESC to draw up a timetable and plan of action to organise the pay campaign and to advise branches on submitting part 2 claims.
A strong motion was also passed calling for a national industrial ballot if the government attempted to attack TPS pensions.
For the indicative and the industrial action ballots to be successful then UCU nationally will need to ensure that there is a a dynamic social media campaign with materials going into every branch.
Black lives matter in further and adult education
For the Black Lives Matter movement, it was agreed that all regions (and nations, we hope) host briefings and encourage branches to make independent local organising plans to put black lives matter charters to their employers. As well tackling racism and bullying in the workplace should include decolonising the curriculum in further, adult and prison education. Further motions called for research into LGBT+ experiences in FE, race caseload data, and for resistance to surveillance of migrants’ status.
Attendance and workload
There are five motions on workload and stress, asking for unnecessary duties to be abandoned, for all guided learning hours to be taken into account, for a model care leave policy, for annual workplace health and safety surveys and a further motion on the menopause, asking all members to share knowledge about it and ensure each branch works on a model policy for their institution.
Despite the real need to reduce footfall on campuses the employers are using attendance monitoring, relentless duplication of record keeping and tracking, calling parents etc that are all driving up workload at a time members are struggling to adapt teaching to new learning platforms. UCU must implement these motions and campaign to challenge the new methods of managerialism and micro-management.
Defend adult education
Many motions were concerned with lifetime skills and adult education: more funding is urgently needed. Adult education is vital for the mental and physical health of many people and our members providing it must be valued and paid properly, with permanent contracts.
There were three more motions, on the competence of principals and governors, on the threat of closure of BTEC courses and for alternative models for post-16 maths and English.
We finished the core agenda and had time to cover another nine motions from the reserve list. These covered anti-casualisation agreements, adult education, “enforced” well-being, weapons on campus, safety for prison workers, learning support staff pay and contracts and LGBT+ migrants.
Let’s make sure 2021 is a year of resistance. The national fightback starts here!
Link to all the motions can be found here.