Further education workers win pay rise in Wales – fight in England continues

Leicester College UCU picket line at Abbey campus, 29.1.19, photo Steve Score

Leicester College UCU picket line at Abbey campus, 29.1.19, photo Steve Score   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

A further education worker Wales

Workers in further education in Wales have won a long overdue pay increase. This will mean we are not left behind by the pay rise that was announced for school teachers in the summer.

The University and College Union (UCU) negotiated with employers’ organisation ColegauCymru to ensure that vital support staff, who help ensure the smooth running of important things like exams, were also properly rewarded. This solidarity between different types of workers, can demonstrate that all working people should fight for decent pay and conditions, and we in the education sector must show solidarity with our comrades who are currently demonstrating against the unjust and unreasonable Tory public sector pay freeze.

Further education colleges across the UK provide an essential service for young, working-class people. They are places where those who have faced too many barriers along the traditional academic routes, can find a fresh start or a second chance.

However, the pressure of planning, preparing for assessing successful vocational courses, as well as providing learners from a range of backgrounds (all with individual learning and support needs), often leaves further education workers feeling inadequate and completely burned out. It is right that the work we do is recognised as just as vital, challenging, and hazardous in the current Covid-19 crisis, as the work of our colleagues in schools.

Workers across the education sector must unite to show that we will no longer accept unfair pay and conditions. We won’t accept that hours of marking and planning at home, in the evenings and at weekends, are just part of the job, and we won’t accept wages that are just enough to get by on.

We want our students to succeed, and they are, because staff are willing to put their own health and wellbeing at risk. Never has this been clearer than during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Overwork and underpay cannot continue in school, in further education, or in higher education, which is why workers need to have a say in the running of our institutions of education, to ensure that they are excellent places to work and excellent places to learn. Fighting trade unions with a strong and united membership are essential if we are going to make this happen.

UCU member England

Further education workers in England have been offered a pitiful 1% pay rise despite a £400 million increase in college funding this year. A decade of Tory austerity has left the further education sector with 24,000 less teachers. Those still working have seen their pay decline by 30% in real terms, with a pay gap between schoolteacher and college lecturers now over £9,000 a year.

By campaigning, further education workers contributed to the sector receiving a £224 million increase in base rate funding last year, as part of a £400 million increase in funding from central government. The further education unions claim they had assurances from college leaders that staff would be prioritised if funding increased for the sector.

The 1% pay award is a painful reminder to workers that the interests of management are not the same as our own. The unions must fight for what members need, not rely on backroom deals with the bosses.

The news about the pay offer in England comes at the same time as further education workers in Wales have won an increase of 8.48% on starting salaries. The pay rise will play an important role in closing the gap between education worker pay, which is also high in Wales.

The pay offer in Wales is partially the result of devolved powers, as the Welsh government placed a requirement that pay parity with schools would be a priority for colleges receiving additional funding.

Socialist Party members in further education reject the 1% offer and call for the opening up of the books for inspection by trade unions. The unions are launching a campaign demanding transparency of further education finances, to show where the increased funding has gone, which we support.

No worker should pay for the Covid crisis, and we must resist any attempts to divide workers from different sectors and across the nations.

All education workers have seen attacks to their pay and conditions from a decade of austerity. And a united campaign of all education workers from schools, colleges and universities is an essential next step to demand the necessary resources for us all.