Branches in FE are being asked to consider whether we want to accept the pay offer from the AoC of 0.7% and whether, if we want to reject this, we want to ballot for action over pay. Your national negotiators and the Further Education Committee (FEC) rejected the offer. None of your national negotiators, nor those of the other unions on the union side, believed at the last meeting that the case for rejecting this offer is other than overwhelming, but all agreed to consult our members.
The branch meeting on Wednesday heard a report from NEC member and national negotiator Laura Miles, and a discussion followed.Members present then voted, with only one or two abstentions, in favour of rejecting the pay offer and in favour of balloting for action. Unfortunately the meeting was not quorate (about 38 members present) and so this vote, when notified to Head Office, will be described as indicative.
A number of points were made in the report and during the discussion which members may like to consider if the Further Education Committee decides on 5th October that we should ballot the union’s FE membership.
The offer needs to be seen as part of the government’s continuing efforts to drive down workers’ incomes and make us pay for the crisis. In FE most lecturers are now significantly worse off than when the crisis first hit. The cost of living has risen by over 10% since the beginning of 2010 and Main Grade Lecturers have lost around £ 3,300 pa in that period. The gap between schoolteachers and FE lecturers has now widened to 7.5%. Since April we are all paying higher pension contributions – really a pay cut. Fuel costs, energy, food, insurance and other necessities keep rising.
George Osborne’s strategy of slashing public spending and public services is completely failing to drag the economy out of recession yet he and his millionaire friends stubbornly insist there is no alternative. No-one should believe this. The crisis was the bankers’ fault, not ours. They have successfully dumped their private debt onto the public purse.
Public services and public sector pay are directly in the firing line. Barely 20 per cent of the cuts announced so far have been implemented. The Coalition are using the crisis to drive through privatisation, higher productivity and lower living standards. The London Met crisis, which you may be aware of, where thousands of overseas students face deportation, shows how they are priming HE and FE for privatisation, with dire implications for pay and conditions.
NUT members have recently voted heavily for industrial action alongside the NASUWT over pay, workloads and pensions. Unions such as the FBU, PCS and others could join in. Our HE colleagues are also balloting over pay. Unison HE staff are planning a strike in October. The stage is set for joint union action. The TUC demonstration planned for 20th October will also be a huge step to boost workers confidence and the TUC voted to consider the practicalities of a general strike at its recent conference. That is a position supported by UCU as determined by resolutions from our Congress in June.
In summary, for UCU’s FE members to accept a pay cut now would be a huge mistake. Crippling tuition fees and this summer’s grading scandals have slashed HE recruitment by around 17% and FE numbers have been badly hit by EMA and ESOL cuts. If we are to effectively defend jobs, courses and conditions then we cannot be seen by employers to roll over on pay.
The AoC’s ‘final’ pay offer of 0.7 per cent, with minimal underpinning for the lowest paid, is a real insult. Despite most colleges having money for new buildings and rising pay for principals we get told to be more efficient, work harder and accept pay cuts and new contracts. Some employers are even talking about regional pay rates. We need binding national agreements on workload and observation policies but in the national negotiations we have only been offered a joint working party to ‘consider best practice’ on observation policy.
Laura Miles, NEC and National Negotiator