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Staff at 32 colleges vote to strike over low pay

11 October 2023

UCU today called on college bosses to begin negotiating after its members voted to strike over low pay and poor working conditions.

An overwhelming 90% of staff who voted in the England wide further education college ballot said they would back strike action. Ballots were held locally, and UCU beat the restrictive 50% turnout threshold at 32 colleges. UCU members at a further 13 colleges have voted to settle their disputes after receiving pay offers of up to 8.5% (at Bury College).  Due to anti-trade union laws, staff at 43 colleges are not able to strike. 

The union's further education committee will meet within two weeks to decide next steps and, if employers refuse to make realistic pay offers, strike action could be called as soon as November. 

UCU is demanding a pay offer in excess of RPI inflation, a national workload agreement, and a commitment to binding national pay negotiations. The employer body, the Association of Colleges (AoC), has recommended a pay uplift of 6.5% but colleges do not have to follow it, and many have failed to do so in previous pay rounds.

A UCU survey of college staff shows that almost all are struggling financially (96%) because of low wages with four in five survey respondents saying their financial situation is impacting their mental health (79%). It shows that many staff have to use foodbanks and ration hot water and heating because their pay is so low. 

Recent financial analysis by UCU shows that 26 principals received pay rises of over 10% in 2021/22 and one principal's total package rose to over £360k. The average increase was 4%, four times higher than the 1% the AoC recommended for staff in that year. 

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'Our members have emphatically voted to strike over the low pay and high workloads that plague further education. Good quality education cannot be built upon the backs of staff who cannot afford to heat and eat. The 6.5% pay recommendation by the AoC is a good start but we fear many employers will simply ignore it as they've done in the past. Where employers can pay more, they should, the money is there. If college bosses want to avoid disruption, they need to offer realistic pay awards, address workloads, and make a commitment to binding national bargaining. 

'Unfortunately, too many employers will be breathing a sigh of relief after restrictive anti-union laws have prevented us from threatening action at their colleges. We are calling on an incoming Labour government to revoke these pernicious laws that single out workers for special treatment. 

'Where colleges do the right thing, we are willing to work with them to avoid any disruption. But if intransigent employers choose to prioritise their own salaries and vanity projects over rewarding the staff who teach and support students, we will respond with strike action. The ball is now in the employers' court.' 

Last updated: 11 October 2023