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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Lo and No Pay Rises

by New Worker correspondent

UNIONS in the Further Education (FE) sector in England are less than delighted by the fact that the employer’s Association of Colleges (AoC) has offered a magnificent one per cent pay rise.

In October a joint pay claim submitted by the University and College Union (UCU), Unison, the National Education Union (NEU), Unite and GMB pointed out that since 2009 staff had suffered a real-terms pay cut of 30 per cent since 2009 and no less than 24,000 staff had left the sector. They also note that this year colleges had a significant £224 million increase in their base rate funding. It is unclear what has happened to that windfall – but it is clear to unions that none has found its way to staff.

In a joint statement the unions said: “After years of campaigning with employers for more money for staff, now is not the time for excuses on pay but instead an investment in staff so that further education can provide the skills for a post-COVID recovery.”

In particular, unions called on employers to commit themselves to working towards closing the £7000 pay gap between school and college teaching staff and introduce the foundation living wage.

Jo Grady, General Secretary of the lecturers’ union UCU, expressed the betrayal by the bosses when she said: “After years of campaigning and marching alongside the AoC and college leaders for extra funding, further education staff will rightly be outraged that AoC’s pay offer is again just one per cent. The joint campaigning was always on the understanding that staff pay would come first.”

She pointed out that “Yet again colleges have shown they cannot be trusted to spend public funds in the way they were intended. The £224 million increase in funding was meant to give colleges the ability to prioritise staff pay. Only an independent investigation into where the missing millions have gone will give us the full transparency required.” This shows a touching faith in the intentions of Tory ministers.

worst pay cuts

For the NEU, joint general secretary Kevin Courtney weighed in to observe: “FE staff have suffered some of the worst pay cuts against inflation year after year. After contributing so much to keeping colleges open in response to the coronavirus crisis, they face another devastating real-terms cut to their pay. FE staff are the sector’s most precious resource and improvements in pay must be the priority for colleges.”

For those further down the education food chain, Unison’s head of education Jon Richards complained that: “College leaders had made clear promises that staff would get a substantial pay rise this year. But they’ve simply ripped these up and raided the wage pot to foot the bill for the pandemic. Pay in the FE sector is simply too low and this offer yet again ignores the value of college staff.”

Unite’s national officer for the sector Siobhan Endean said: “The paltry pay offer is adding insult to injury after a decade of pay austerity and we call on the AoC to return to the negotiating table for realistic talks to address the pay issue that has bedevilled the sector for far too long.”

For the janitors, GMB’s Stuart Fegan concluded: “College staff have been on the frontline in supporting communities during our efforts to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic. What has been offered by the AoC amounts to a real-terms pay cut, which our members will only be deeply disappointed and angry to receive. We call on the AoC to have a long hard think on how much they value brave, hard-working college staff.”

Things are even worse in the Higher Education sector, where the one per cent pay offer makes university don’s green with ency. Their pay offer, which was tabled in October, is precisely zero per cent, although some promises of improvements to matters such as gender and race pay equality, workload, standardised 35-hour week contract, casualised and outsourced workers, and career development for support staff had been made.

There are signs of a fightback. A Unison national officer, Ruth Levin, warned: “Our members are sending a clear message that they are not prepared to put up with a pay freeze, which, with inflation taken in account, is actually a pay cut.

“Higher education staff have worked harder than ever before under such difficult circumstances over the last nine months to keep universities running and to support students.”

Meanwhile a number of smaller local industrial disputes are taking place…