Unprecedented ‘cost-of-living’ strike hits dozens of colleges

Staff at 22 colleges across England begin their strike next Monday 26 September with a further nine colleges striking the week after.

The level of industrial action being undertaken is ‘unprecedented’ in England, UCU says.

Staff will be picketing outside every college on each morning of strike action. The strikes will take place over four weeks in the first half term of the academic year. The full dates of strike action are:

  • Week 1: Monday 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 September (3 days)
  • Week 2: Thursday 6 and Friday 7 October (2 days)

  • Week 3: Monday 10 and Tuesday 11 October (2 days)

  • Week 4: Tuesday 18 Wednesday, 19 and Thursday 20 October (3 days)

Staff at Burnley, Liverpool and Oldham colleges are also striking over pay, but are striking on different dates, which are: Tuesday 4, Wednesday 5 and Thursday 6 October..

UCU is demanding employers make a pay offer that reflects the soaring costs college staff currently face. Since 2009 pay in further education has fallen behind inflation by 35% and the pay gap between school and college teachers stands at around £9k. Unqualified college teachers earn as little as £21k whilst qualified teachers earn as little as £26k.

In June, employer representative the Association of Colleges made a pay recommendation of just 2.5%. RPI inflation is now at 12.3%. Employers have had two months since UCU’s ballot result to make meaningful pay offers that reflect rising inflation levels, but have not done so.

Staff at seven further colleges also have mandates to strike but are not yet going forward with action. Should these colleges fail to make staff suitable pay offers, industrial action could follow.

This summer UCU produced a report that shows the vast majority of college staff are financially insecure, impacting the mental health of more than eight in 10 with many being forced to skip meals and restrict hot water use to save money. Seven in 10 said they will leave the sector unless pay and working conditions improve.

The Department for Education has announced £1.6bn in extra funding for further education and UCU estimates that colleges already have an additional £400m that is available to spend on staff compared with 2019-20.

UCU is also balloting staff at 150 universities including over low pay.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘Strike action on this scale in further education is unprecedented. But our members have been left with no other option, they are being pushed into poverty by college bosses who refuse to raise pay to help them meet the cost-of-living crisis.

‘College staff deliver excellent education but over the last twelve years their pay has fallen behind inflation by 35% and now thousands are skipping meals, restricting energy use and considering leaving the sector altogether. This strike action will continue for 10 days unless college bosses wake up to this crisis, stop dining off the goodwill of their workforce and make a serious pay offer.’

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