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Wales further education colleges: Lecturers Fight For A Living Wage
LAST NOVEMBER the Welsh Assembly, through its education minister Jane Davidson, intervened in the long-running dispute over Further Education (FE) college lecturers' pay. They promised the injection of £9 million, paving the way for parity of pay between FE lecturers and schoolteachers in April 2004.
Andrew Price, NATFHE NEC member FE Wales and a Wales pay negotiator
For NATFHE, the main trade union organising teaching staff in FE colleges, acceptance of these proposals meant a switch from national (England and Wales) pay bargaining to Wales-level bargaining.
Wales also withdrew from national industrial action, notably the one-day strike called jointly with UNISON on 5 November 2002.
Acceptance of the proposals meant a tacit recognition that the only way the union could achieve justice on pay was through a partnership with the employers and New Labour in the Welsh Assembly.
For this reason, prominent left-wingers in the union in Wales like myself and Craig Lewis, the chair of the FE sector committee, opposed the Davidson proposals.
We pointed out the college employers' poor record on pay and conditions since the incorporation (privatisation) of FE Colleges by the Tories in 1993.
NATFHE members in Wales voted narrowly to accept the Davidson proposals. From then, every left-wing activist in the union in Wales strove to achieve the best possible deal in line with member's wishes.
Initially negotiations with the Welsh employers organisation Fforwm went relatively smoothly, with agreement being reached on the allocation of the £9 million from the Assembly, giving most to the lowest-paid workers - the support staff and the hourly paid teaching staff and least to the management grades.
However, talks on parity with schoolteachers quickly floundered. Currently schoolteachers are employed on a six-point scale, following which a teacher may progress through a five-point upper scale after successful completion of development reviews.
Given the clear similarity between the job of a schoolteacher and a FE college lecturer, NATFHE argues that all main-grade college lecturers should have the same opportunities as schoolteachers to progress.
This position was opposed by the employers, who proposed a new grade - Advanced Practitioners, meaning that only a small minority of main-grade lecturers would progress to parity with schoolteachers.
NATFHE made a number of concessions to achieve agreement but the employers refused to compromise. They didn't use the funding argument, stating that not all of us deserve pay parity with schoolteachers.
NATFHE in Wales has already adopted an action programme, should pay talks break down, involving a three-day strike in September to be escalated if necessary to indefinite strike action. The strategy was endorsed by the union's national conference, which also voted overwhelmingly despite opposition from the right-wing, to support members on strike at £50 per day from day one.
A victory for NATFHE members in Wales would pave the way for a similar victory in England, a victory for all trade unionists.
In The Socialist 21 June 2003: