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Strikes to begin across all six Northern Ireland colleges over pay row

17 March 2021 | last updated: 19 March 2021

All six further education colleges in Northern Ireland will be hit with one day of strike action on Wednesday 24 March unless Stormont urgently addresses staff concerns over pay and conditions of service.

The strike action will be immediately followed by continuous action short of a strike. This will see UCU members only working to contracted hours, refusing to work overtime, and boycotting any additional duties.  

UCU balloted its members after the employers made a pay offer of just 7% over four years. Overall, the offer amounts to an annual pay rise of 1.2% over a nine-year period and is a real terms cut. An overwhelming 88.7% of the union's members who voted did so in favour of strike action and over 96% said they will take action short of strike.

UCU declared a dispute with the minister for the economy, Diane Dodds, because the employers say they cannot pay staff more unless Stormont increases college funding. The union said it cannot understand why the Department for the Economy (DfE) seems to value the further education sector and the work of its members less than other teaching staff, and demanded that minister for the economy, Diane Dodds intervene to achieve fair pay for college staff. UCU added that college lecturers have supported their students throughout the pandemic and deserve an increased pay offer just as much as school teachers. 

This year school teachers in Northern Ireland were offered pay increases of 2% for 2019/20 and 2% again for 2020/21, after education minister Peter Weir made representations on their behalf and helped secure better wages. 

UCU claims a significant obstacle to achieving a fair pay settlement for lecturing staff is a flawed assumption held by DfE officials that pay rises can be financed solely from generating 'efficiencies' within the sector. In reality that means forcing staff to work harder for much longer hours. The union said this is neither realistic, fair, nor sustainable.'

UCU Northern Ireland official Katharine Clarke said: 'There is no excuse for our further education members continuing to receive such low pay compared to the rest of the education sector. The refusal of minister Diane Dodds and the Department for the Economy to intervene to secure more funding for colleges and a proper pay rise for college lecturers suggests Stormont does not appreciate the value of further education. If these unfair pay levels continue, staff will be driven out of the sector. Unless the minister moves to address the situation, including making representations to the Department of Finance, the sector will be hit with continuous industrial action starting with a one-day strike on Wednesday 24th March.'

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'On top of their usual vital work, our members in colleges across Northern Ireland have worked flat out to support students throughout the pandemic. They deserve fair pay just as much as school teachers and NHS staff. Further education is absolutely central to society under any circumstances, but it will be even more crucial as we recover from Covid and face the challenges of a post-Brexit economy. Yet since 2013/14, college lecturers have received a measly 3.8% pay rise, compared to 11.25% for school teachers over the same period.'