Pay, workload and levelling up the sector

90 colleges in 120 UCU branches across England are balloting for industrial action to secure an above inflation pay award, a workload agreement and a binding national framework agreement. This is the biggest ballot in FE for a decade and reflects the anger and injustice felt by those who work in FE.

We were all praised for the work we carried out in the pandemic, government ministers took to the airways to say how vital FE is to rebuilding the economy but have cut funding year on year since 2010. Lecturers’ pay lags behind that of school teachers by 15%, which has led to the worst recruitment crisis in the sector for two decades.

This year the government has given an extra £500 m over two years but this is not enough and doesn’t even take us back to pre-2010 levels. However, there is more money at a local level and this extra cash must be ring-fenced for pay.

Our campaign is attempting to do two things simultaneously: First, put pressure on the government and the AoC for a new deal for FE, which includes more funds, a national workload framework agreement and to level up the sector by introducing a national binding framework agreement. Second, to force the local employers to tell the AoC and government that they agree to these demands and agree to an above inflation pay award.

To be successful in achieving these aims we will need to use our collective strength through all branches taking action together. Last year’s nationally coordinated campaign only a small minority of branches got pay deals that could be considered good or ok deals. Only one of these was above inflation. The vast majority either got no deals or poor deals. Fighting as individual units plays into the hands of the local employer. They plead poverty and blame the government for not being able to concede to our demands. By fighting as individual units, branches feel isolated and then feel forced to accept way below inflation pay awards.

All those branches that have participated in this kind of action have laid the basis for a more effective campaign this year. However, to ensure that this reality is realised we can’t repeat the same branch by branch strategy simply battling it out with local employers. We need to take our fight to all the employers and government using our collective power where we all come out together and not settle for the first derisory offer made by a local employer.

Unity and leadership

It is very disappointing that the chair of FE and one of the vice chairs have gone against FEC policy by using their numbers, as national FEC officers, to vote to exclude their branches from the ballots. Both their branches achieved over 50% turnouts and their members voted overwhelmingly to take action. Their rationale for withdrawing from the ballot is on the basis that one believes that they are in talks over pay and balloting now would put these talks in jeopardy and the other their branch doesn’t have capacity to run a GTVO campaign.

Both the reasons given are weak and illogical. As any of us who have been involved in negotiations at local or national level will explain – it always puts union negotiators in a more powerful position when they enter negotiations with a live ballot in their pockets – you have some leverage, without it you are left to the ‘goodwill’ of the employers and we know where that gets us….

As for capacity, if it is really the case that the President-Elect, the FEC chair’s own branch does not have the capacity to be a part of a nationally coordinated campaign surely, she must reflect on her position on being able to lead the England-wide campaign?

Both are national negotiators. It doesn’t put us in a great position, indeed it appears to undermine our position, when the lead negotiators won’t be taking action and settling for deals that undermine what we are trying to do at the national negotiations. 

As FE members vote to take strike action in the knowledge that they will have strike pay deducted from their wages it is not a good look , to say the least, that the Chair and one of the Vice -chairs won’t be.

We call on all FEC members to unite behind the agreed strategy. Settling for local below inflation pay deals will not strengthen local or national bargaining positions, it will let the employers locally and nationally off the hook at a time when we are in one of the best positions we have been in for a very long time to win decent pay awards and level up the sector – let’s not waste this opportunity.

Dharminder Singh Chuhan FEC UK-elected, Sandwell College 
Nina Doran FEC UK-elected, City of Liverpool College 
Peter Evans FEC LGBT+, Ealing, Hammersmith & West London College 
John Fones FEC South, Bridgwater & Taunton College 
Naina Kent FEC UK-elected, Hackney ACE 
Richard McEwan FEC London & East, New City College 
Juliana Ojinnaka FEC Black members, The Sheffield College 
Regi Pilling FEC Women members, Capital City College Group 
Doug Webley FEC Midlands, South and City College Birmingham
Elaine White FEC North East, Bradford College 
Sean Vernell FEC UK elected, City and Islington College 
John James FE Wales, Coleg Gwent Newport

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