Members of UCU, the lecturers’ union, are due to strike on 5 February in an ongoing dispute over pay harmonisation. Eleven FE colleges nationally, including three in London, will be affected initially.
The 2004 ‘Modernising Pay’ agreement was supposed to lead to all FE colleges harmonising i.e. moving from their previous 14-point pay spine to an 8-point spine.
The effect of the shorter spine is to make annual increments larger and to shorten the time to reach the top of the pay spine. This would mean a £4,500 a year increase for a lecturer at mid-point of scale. Good news for those whose colleges have implemented it! However, four years after the deal a little over 50% of colleges have actually done so.
In those colleges that have not harmonised many lecturers have lost out to the tune of £10,000 and more. This shows the relative weakness of UCU in FE. National negotiations may mean little without the college-level organisation to force management to implement agreements.
Towards the end of last year’s pay dispute, an FE sector conference of UCU voted to make winning pay harmonisation a priority. Thus eleven selected colleges nationally were balloted for strike action and industrial action short of a strike. The ballot result was a resounding 70% for strike action and 86% for action short of strike, a strong vote given a short balloting period broken up by Xmas.
UCU’s declared strategy is to start with the more winnable colleges and following successes with these to ballot further groups of colleges as the dispute gains momentum. This strategy depends on success with the initial colleges. A point not lost on the college managements, who have held joint meetings to plan a united response.
All of these colleges are of course pleading poverty including my own, the College of North West London. Of course you don’t get to be a senior manager in FE without having a brass neck. Over the period 2003-8 our principal has had a 43% pay rise. The college currently has reserves of £4m and has had up to £10m reserves within the last our years! If “pressures of funding” exist they can only come from funding the exorbitant pay the senior management team get.
Of course in a sense it’s unfair to stigmatise CNWL senior management for exorbitant pay when they are simply following suit with what goes on across the sector.
Looking at CNWL the campaign to win the ballot has lead to a huge increase in life and vitality in the branch. Membership has increased from 170 to 230 and whole staff rooms have joined en masse. An organising approach linked to agitation around deeply felt unifying demands has paid off thus far.
UCU has held meetings for reps from the balloted colleges which have been a first step in allowing some space for rank and file members to discuss and share ideas and strategies. However rank and file links need to be widened and deepened to really give an opportunity for the members rather than head office to take full ownership of the dispute.
College of North West London
Askham Bryan College
Sussex Downs College
Nelson and Colne College
Dearne Valley College