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Taking action in higher education

Report by Head of FE to sector conference


Barry Lovejoy, UCU head of further education

Good morning conference and what a fantastic turnout. I have to say that in the ....odd years since we have had FE sector conferences this is the biggest turn out (and I know because I have been to them all ) It tells me (and the press take note) that after yet another year of bruising battles and punishing campaigning, UCU remains determined to continue its mission to defend Further , Adult and Prison Education against the continuing onslaughts of this Tory led coalition.

We remain committed to ensure for our students - young, older, black white, able and disabled. Irrespective of social class, gender or sexual orientation - a quality non selective educational and training service that offers second, third (and more where necessary) chances to have life opportunities appropriate for the 21st century not some pre state involvement times of the 19th .

And yes we are not embarrassed to say that it requires decent pay and working conditions for all those who work in the sector and it will not come from casualisation deregulation, marketisation or privatisation. (Whatever language it is dressed up in).

The key people on which this union depends - the branch officers, reps and activists are represented in large numbers in this room today - it is you who have the responsibility on a daily basis to motivate reassure, represent and lead our members. And you continue to deliver So give yourself a clap.

But also I am also sure you will want to give your appreciation for UCU staff who under incredibly pressurised workloads continue to provide you and members with excellent support and guidance.

I have always been clear that in order to ensure the continuing support and involvement of members we have to demonstrate and celebrate our achievements and success. We do make a difference but members must see that we do.

On a branch level numerous individuals are assisted every week of the year when faced by what unfortunately are continuing pressure from managements whether disciplinary or otherwise.

We have had notable collective successes on a national and local level.

There can be no question that the decision of the government to accept the recommendation of the Lingfield review to end compulsory membership and fees for IFL, met the key objective of our members and was a result of a campaign that was a model of good practice. Massive membership involvement, coupled with national union activity of lobbying, publicity, negotiating with consultation of members at crucial stages.

There remain clear challenges of course from the Lingfield report - clearly expressed in some motions to this conference.

Just in case that anyone in the sector is in any doubt - UCU remains committed to a fully professionalised workforce and stands squarely against an anarchic totally unregulated free for all. Students deserve no less than to know that wherever they are trained or choose to study that they have well qualified and skilled teachers. This must continue to be a condition of receiving government funding and employers must face up to their responsibilities of enabling and supporting staff in their continuing professional development

Clearly the defence of TPS pensions has been most prominent activity over the last year and you will be debating the next steps at the end of this afternoon. I do not intend to make any intervention here save to say that I believe that it is important to be clear that in fact our own and other unions actions has achieved concessions. The final offer is unacceptable but if we are to mobilse members take further campaigning on this or indeed on other issues members do need to know their action has impact. To suggest we have been totally defeated is not exactly a good mobilising argument. We have achieved some success here and we should say more about that.

Again this last year has seen UCU branches in the vast majority of instances successfully resist compulsory job losses. I do not intend to single out any in particular and there is not one size fits all or off the peg plan or silver bullet. But as I said last year - collective action - when clearly focused on objectives agreed by members, linked to the negotiating process and with members fully involved in decisions - produces results.

The battle on jobs continues but ominously we are now entering a new phase of attacks on local pay and conditions of service. We are seeing it all - increased teaching hours, less annual leave, pay freezes or bars on salary scales, and or reconfiguration of jobs to trainer instructor status.

So far in this latest round we have seen 3 key disputes where branches have faced such combinations of attacks.

Anyone here from Gateshead

Sunderland?

And at Chesterfield?

All have shown brilliant resistance - concerted campaigning produced fantastic ballots for action with high turnouts and yes votes that followed big branch meetings.

I have no doubt that with such massive support of the members in all these colleges successful outcomes will be achieved in all. Already in Gateshead the basis of an agreement has been achieved, meaningful negotiations are ongoing at Sunderland and a fantastic one day strike in Chesterfield is putting management under increasing pressure to withdraw remaining unacceptable demands for a pay freeze.

Such attacks will no doubt continue and we may have seen nothing yet. As the austerity screw continues to tighten the AOC has now exposed itself as cheerleader for further attacks in the current round of pay negotiations.

As you know the first day of talks saw a refusal of employers to even make an offer unless unions agreed to endorse further flexibilities in local conditions of service (flexibilities of course mean longer hours and increased workloads) and on top of this to agree the end of incremental progression up the pay scales.

The Times Ed quoted me as saying the union side was gobsmacked ... and Unfortunately I have to tell you colleagues that the situation has gone from bad to worse.

The offer we now have is that for 0.5% (yes you heard me correctly) we must now sign up to the statement that you have been given copies. What it means in the name of fairness (how's that for an example Orwellian newspeak) is performance related pay, the effective ending of national scales and thousands of younger staff - the very facing disproportionate pay cuts.

I hope you will all agree that the union side was right in rejecting such an insult last week. Whether employers in the face of such a rejection make any pay rise at all nationally it is clear that they intend to drive this policy locally and to resist we are going to have to mobilise members for a fight.

But I do want to say one thing again in very clear terms - we cannot use a statutory ballot on industrial action as a means of consultation. When we ballot we should only do so. ( as in the case of the disputes I have mentioned already ) when we know we will get a resounding yes. And that does mean yes consulting and campaigning with members prior to running such ballots Conference motions and amendments do not win disputes - its membership support and action.

Finally conference I want to turn to the growing obsession within the sector of management surveillance through oppressive classroom observations. The numbers of motions and amendments addressing the issue makes it clear how important this is to our members as do the ongoing disputes over the issue with more in the pipeline

Let me give a message to college principals and the aoc - we share your view over the misguided and inappropriate new OFSTEAD approaches and agree that they are massive threat to colleges, but there is nothing to be gained by simply mirroring or trying to out tough the return of the new Woodhead regime. Introducing more stressful and fear engendering punitive practices is counterproductive to the extreme. Surely better we say to work with us and our members to support and improve professional practice not introduce measures that undermine rather than undermine professional judgment. We need a national agreement or at very least some promotion of good practice AOC .

But let's be clear that if colleges continue to follow the punitive and pressurising path they will be met with continuing concerted action from our branches with the full support of the national union.

Last updated: 12 June 2012