Members of the University and College Union have begun the biggest wave of strike action in further education colleges for years. They are fighting for a pay rise to match recent inflation, improved workloads and national negotiations.
A mass rally was held in the centre of London on Tuesday 14 November under the banner of “Respect FE”. This coincided with the first of three days of strike action (14, 15 and 16 November) in participating FE colleges to demand a new settlement for the sector in England.
For too long, the government and the employers, represented by the Association of Colleges, have neglected further education. They have allowed pay to fall well behind that of teaching roles in schools.
The union calculates that real pay has fallen by 35 per cent in recent years. The demand for a 15.4 per cent rise is based on the January 2023 RPI increase plus 2 per cent.
Workloads have become excessive too. In a 2021 survey over 80 per cent of UCU members reported a significant increase in workload – and over 40 per cent described their workload as “unmanageable”. Things have not improved since.
The system of negotiating with the FE employers has failed to deliver improvements over recent years. The union has included a demand that pay and conditions are settled by binding national negotiations in future.
The campaign has already had some success. Thirteen colleges settled before the national ballot closed at the end of October. And in over twenty more, UCU members have accepted a negotiated deal since then.
Strikes took place at six colleges and two college groups which had passed the ballot threshold, but have not yet settled. The vote overall was strongly in favour of action, but did not meet the 50 per cent turnout legal threshold in a number of colleges, falling not far short in several larger institutions.
• UCU members are in a separate dispute over low pay at the five colleges in north east England run by the Education Training Collective. Strikes took place on 7, 13 and 14 November. The union says that the employer has the funds to make a settlement and should not be trying to recruit lecturers on a salary of under £24,000.