Jayne Gillies, UCU rep at Bury College, reports on the upcoming strike action at FE colleges in the North West after UCU members roundly rejected insulting pay offers
UCU branches in 7 FE colleges across the North West are due to commence industrial action on 18 May, starting with a full day of strike action. There will also be an online rally in the afternoon with a host of speakers lined up to show their support for chronically under-paid, under-valued and under-appreciated staff within the sector. This will be followed by Asos (Action short of strike) starting on 19 May.
So far, colleges have offered up to 3% pay awards with some offering none at all. At a time when staff are facing the increasing financial pressures of the cost of living crisis, with many having to spend their own money to buy supplies and resources for students while wondering whether to put fuel in their car or turn on their heating, this is insulting, appalling and downright disgusting.
One example, Bury College, is in the process of completing a new building which has so far cost upwards of £10,000,000. The college also has a financial rating of 'outstanding' and has millions of pounds of cash reserves in the bank. All the while, senior leaders within the college are pleading poverty to staff and citing reasons such as increases in utility bills and uncertainty about funding as to why they can only offer such a tiny amount of their considerable wealth to their hard-working and dedicated staff members. A considerable increase in funding already announced for the next academic year, and the constant reminder of how healthy the college's finances are with their new building developments, make their claims difficult to believe.
Pay talks have been ongoing since November 2021 and the college is yet to make an offer that shows significant commitment to its staff. UCU has been consistent in asking for an inflation-plus pay award, not an unreasonable amount or something that would put the college's finances into a precarious position. This is something that they could comfortably afford, despite their best efforts to convince staff otherwise.
Membership at Bury College has grown by 33% during the pay negotiations and members have voted several times to reject amended offers from the employer, the latest being a 3% increase with a £500 non-consolidated element and the shift of next year's pay award from January 2023 to September 2022. This is not good enough, our members have had enough and are determined to continue with industrial action until they are offered enough to recognise their value.
The pay campaign and growth in membership at Bury College have been successful so far due to the grassroots organising. Ballots were won based on the hard work of the branch; breaking down the workplace into specific membership lists, allocating staffrooms and departments to active members. This way of organising is called 'spider-webbing' and utilises all the tools at an activist's disposal in organising members and disseminating information to all members. Setting up a Strike Committee is the final most vital step in organising industrial action and the members have been more than happy to join the committee so the branch is organised, prepared and ready to go on strike day.
The picket at Bury College will start at 7am on Wednesday 18 May, with the main picket outside the Millennium Centre building. On Thursday 19 May, Bury Trades Council has organised a strike solidarity meeting at 7pm at the Ground Up Coffee Shop on Market Street. Please attend if you can.
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