UCU placards UCU placards, 2018. Photo: Stinglehammer / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Two striking Further Education lecturers explain why they feel they have no choice but to take action

This week UCU has begun a series of local strikes demanding better pay and conditions in the FE sector. With most ballots seeing over 95% if members vote for industrial action, two activists discuss why they have made this difficult decision.

Striker 1

Today, I have done something that I have never done before: I have had to take strike action against an employer.

There are several reasons as to why I came to this decision.

Staff have not had a significant pay rise for many years. Compared to 2010, staff are 35% behind where pay should be. FE offers much lower staff salaries than other parts of the education sector and, with the cost-of-living crisis taking its toll, how can anyone be expected to live on a third less salary than they need?

Our CEO has one of the largest salaries in education, yet staff are short on lesson equipment, our technology is outdated, and our salaries are behind other colleges in the region.

Retention of staff is also a huge problem. Teachers are leaving FE and education altogether because of the conditions and treatment in the sector.

When staff leave, they are not replaced with new staff due to the poor pay and conditions the sector is offering. This is putting more pressure on existing staff who are expected to make up the short fall with up to 24 hours contact time per week. Due to this, staff do not have enough time to lesson plan, mark work and maintain a healthy work/life balance.

The sector seems to rely on teachers’ good will, but when salary and conditions are terrible, our goodwill turns into exploitation.

Senior management expect the college to be world class and outstanding like other colleges in the region. Yet they are not willing to treat and renumerate staff to improve our quality of life.

Taking our demands seriously would be an excellent way to bring in new staff and increase student outcomes and satisfaction.

So for the reasons above, I have decided to strike today.

Striker 2

It is no surprise why so many employees from different sectors have been going on strike. I’ve been proud to wear my ‘SUPPORT THE UNION’ sticker this morning.

Financially it has not been easy for anyone. FE teachers deserve a proper pay rise of 10%, not a pathetic 2.5% as suggested by the Association of Colleges.

There is a lack of respect for the FE sector in general. FE teachers are paid less than educators with similar roles in primary and secondary schools. I have worked in high schools before and the workload and responsibilities were pretty much the same yet we are paid less for the same work – this is not fair at all.

I love teaching itself, but I do not love all the extra unpaid responsibilities that have crept into our contracts over the years.

This includes providing additional support during exams and working multiple late evenings after a full day of teaching. Teaching is a physically and emotionally challenging job which tends to be underappreciated. After a long day, all I want to do is rest at home, but this time is spent marking for ever expanding groups.

It is also hard to see how this is benefitting the students. Recently we have had to cancel lessons to facilitate these unpaid expectations.

Teaching is an incredibly stressful job, and it has caused me various mental and physical health problems with which I am still dealing. The pressure of the job can weaken your immunity and make you physically ill.

I don’t like taking sick days as they are bad for the students and I often feel guilty taking time off for my own recovery. There is so much emphasis on wellbeing, yet the people in charge don’t offer anything meaningful to mitigate the issue. How are we meant to perform at our best for the students if we are all so burnt out? We cannot. No wonder there is such a shortage of teachers. My health should come first, not the job.

I went on strike as I felt I had no choice. It is the only way anything will change, and that needs to happen as soon as possible.

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