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Further education unions express outrage at pay offer and breakdown of trust in employers

3 December 2020 | last updated: 4 December 2020

Trade unions representing staff in English further education colleges have today slammed the decision by the Association of Colleges (AoC) to offer a 1% pay increase and demanded to know what additional government funding had been spent on.

In a joint pay claim submitted in October, the unions (UCU, UNISON, NEU, Unite and GMB) made clear that college staff had suffered a real-terms pay cut of 30% since 2009 with over 24,000 teaching staff leaving the sector. This year colleges saw a significant £224m increase in base rate funding, yet it is unclear what employers spent this on instead of investing in staff. Only full transparency into where the money was spent will give staff the answers they need.

The unions said that after years of campaigning with employers for more money for staff, now is not the time for excuses on pay but instead an investment in staff so that further education can provide the skills for a post-Covid recovery.

The unions also called on employers to publicly commit to working towards closing the £7000 pay gap between school and college teaching staff and introduce the foundation living wage.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'After years of campaigning and marching alongside the AoC and college leaders for extra funding, further education staff will rightly be outraged that AoC's pay offer is again just 1%. The joint campaigning was always on the understanding that staff pay would come first.

'Yet again colleges have shown they cannot be trusted to spend public funds in the way they were intended. The £224m increase in base rate funding was meant to give colleges the ability to prioritise staff pay. Only an independent investigation into where the missing millions have gone will give us the full transparency required.

'UCU members will now find it hard to believe that AoC can be a trusted partner for joint campaigning. To rebuild that trust the AoC must publicly sign up to proposals that will close the gap of over £7000 between FE lecturer pay and schools teachers.'

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: 'FE staff have suffered some of the worst pay cuts against inflation year after year. After contributing so much to keeping colleges open in response to the Coronavirus crisis, they face another devastating real terms cut to their pay. FE staff are the sector's most precious resource and improvements in pay must be the priority for colleges.'

UNISON head of education Jon Richards said: 'College leaders had made clear promises that staff would get a substantial pay rise this year. But they've simply ripped these up and raided the wage pot to foot the bill for the pandemic. Pay in the FE sector is simply too low and this offer yet again ignores the value of college staff.'

Stuart Fegan, GMB national officer, Stuart Fegan said: 'College staff have been on the frontline in supporting communities during our efforts to defeat the covid-19 pandemic. What has been offered by the AoC amounts to a real terms pay cut, which our members will only be deeply disappointed and angry to receive. We call on the AoC to have a long hard think on how much they value brave, hard-working college staff.'

Unite national officer for further education Siobhan Endean said: 'The paltry pay offer is adding insult to injury after a decade of pay austerity and we call on the Association of Colleges to return to the negotiating table for realistic talks to address the pay issue that has bedeviled the sector for far too long and led to thousands of staff leaving further education for better paid work elsewhere.'

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