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College staff in England to join wave of strike action

18 July 2022

Staff at 29 colleges in England will join the wave of industrial action sweeping the country after huge numbers voted in favour of strike action. The ballot result comes after the employers refused to improve a pay offer of just 2.5% in negotiations.

The result, in which 89.9% of UCU members voted YES to strike action on an overall turnout of 57.9%, is the biggest mandate for industrial action across English further education colleges since the 50% turnout threshold was brought into force in 2016.

The 29 colleges will also be joined by four others in the North West and six across London that were balloted separately, bringing the total number of colleges set to be hit by action to 39.

The six colleges in London were balloted over local pay and conditions claims (Barnet & Southgate College 2020/21 & 2021/22, New City College Group 2021/22 & 2022/23). An overwhelming 98.4% of those who voted said yes to strike action at Barnet & Southgate College with a turnout of 77.4%. An overwhelming 88.6% of those who voted said yes to strike action at Hackney, Havering, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets and Epping Forest colleges and the turnout was 65.8%.

The union is demanding the colleges increase pay to meet the cost of living crisis. Employer body the Association of Colleges (AoC) has recommended a pay rise by just 2.5% despite inflation hitting 11.7%. Staff pay has now fallen 35% behind inflation since 2009 after a series of below inflation pay offers. In pay scales drawn up by the AoC, unqualified teachers can earn as little as £21,000 with qualified teachers starting on less than £26,000. Meanwhile, some college bosses earn over £200,000.

This month a UCU report showed that the vast majority of college staff are financially insecure, impacting the mental health of more than eight in 10 with many being forced to skip meals and restrict hot water use to save money.  Seven in 10 said they would leave the sector unless pay and working conditions improve.

The Department for Education (DfE) has announced £1.6bn in extra funding for further education and UCU estimates that colleges already have an additional £400m that is available to spend on staff compared with 2019-20.

Strike action at a number of colleges has been called off after employers made improved pay offers of up to 9%.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'Today, college staff have shown that they are sick of falling pay and have voted overwhelmingly for strike action after employers made a pay offer of just 2.5%.

'College workers have had their pay held down so long that the vast majority now face financial insecurity whilst the sector experiences a recruitment and retention crisis. Yet as the cost of living crisis bites employers want their staff to take a further hit with more below inflation pay rises. This is completely unacceptable.

'After receiving increased funding from government, colleges now have the money to begin properly paying their staff - and they must do so to avoid disruption when the new academic year begins in September.'

Last updated: 22 July 2022