Lecturers at Gateshead College took to the picket lines again on Thursday morning to protest in their on-going dispute about conditions of service. “We‘ve been de-skilled, de-motivated & demoralised”, as one striker told me.

As they organised placards for their members’ picket, UCU reps Alison Richardson & Julie Wright described the anger of lecturers at Gateshead College. They told me of how lecturers feel their professionalism is being undermined. The college wants to reduce the amount of planning and preparation time from 12 hours a week to just four.

For some lecturers, weekly contact hours have increased from 24 to 33. The college also wants no cap on the annual hours worked.

“There is a huge amount of discontent and a lack of confidence in the management’s decision-making process and what it’s been based upon,” says lecturer Steve Forester-Melville.

“Many staff have been ‘demoted’ to learning facilitators after lecturing and running courses in the college for years,” he says.

Union members are also angry that a structure that should have been in place at the start of term, giving time to adjust and prepare for new students, was implemented in October after students had been in for a month.

“This has caused the biggest mess,” says Steve, “with courses without staff responsible for them and lecturers having to pick up or in some cases drop classes at the last minute, and all the while the management continue to say that the whole re-structuring is to improve the ‘learner experience’”.

There have been posts on the college facebook page from many students expressing discontent about the disruption to the start of their courses at the college.

Ritchie Bathgate, Chair of the UCU Branch at Gateshead College, said: “Members have shown great resolve by voting again for strike action in pursuit of an agreement on workload which we believe will protect the quality of education we deliver. We will continue this dispute until we have a deal that we can all sign up to.”

Jon Bryan, Regional Support Official for UCU, reported on his blog that, “There was good support at all picket lines. At the Skills Academy, many drivers showed their support by beeping their horns as they drove along the Kingsway.”

A further strike by UCU members has been called for next Wednesday (10 October).

Tony Dowling

Tony Dowling is a teacher, socialist, trade unionist, antifascist, anti-war & anti-cuts activist. He is currently chair of North East People's Assembly and a member of Counterfire.

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