The Socialist 9 February 2006 |
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Further education - Wales pay agreement:
Victory for trade union militancy
FOR NEARLY 13 years, further education (FE) in England and Wales has
been market-driven, given the effective privatisation of the sector.
Andrew Price, Wales pay negotiator
Contrary to the views of the Tory and New Labour supporters of
privatisation, this has neither enhanced the quality of post-school
education nor protected the pay and conditions of those who work in the
sector (who are organised mainly by NATFHE and UNISON).
Privatisation opened up a considerable pay gap between schoolteachers
and FE college lecturers who do virtually the same job - hence NATFHE's
long-running campaign to establish pay parity. In 2002, following strike
action by NATFHE members, the union in Wales was approached by the Wales
Assembly with the offer of funding to establish pay parity.
Following the acceptance of this offer by NATFHE members in branch
meetings, the union established a negotiating team to attempt agreement
with the Wales FE employers' body (Fforwm). All three of the NATFHE lay
negotiators were committed left-wingers.
The anarchy of the free market system in FE in England and Wales has
meant that national agreements on pay are reached in London with NATFHE
and UNISON. Then the employers decide to spend the money on anything but
From the outset in the Welsh negotiations, the trade union side
insisted that any funding from the Assembly for the deal would be
ring-fenced and only spent on staff pay.
Few, if any FE college principals in Wales are paid less than
£100,000 a year. But this did not stop their negotiators trying to
prevent those who do the only really important work in colleges
improving their pay.
Despite this, agreement was eventually reached on pay, giving
proportionately more to the lower-paid and establishing decent pay and
conditions for the (overwhelmingly female) part-time teaching staff.
Finally, agreement was reached on a scheme of pay parity with
To some this agreement represents the triumph of devolution, or even
more falsely, that New Labour in Cardiff is better than New Labour in
But from the very start, NATFHE in Wales made the employers
understand that failure to reach agreement would led to members being
balloted for a three-day strike, to be escalated if necessary to
This was in fact the most extensive programme of strike action
proposed by NATFHE anywhere in the United Kingdom and was the decisive
factor in this victory for our members.
Their brothers and sisters in England will be keen to draw the vital
lessons from this, as will trade unionists everywhere.