The Association of Colleges consulted colleges on whether to retain national pay bargaining last year. This process involves the association represent colleges in negotiations with the national joint forum, representing the main unions for FE staff: UCU, the NEU, Unison, GMB and Unite.
The majority backed retaining it. But once an agreement with the unions is struck, it is down to colleges to decide whether to implement it. According to the UCU, only around a third of colleges implemented those recommendations last year.
Bedford College principal Ian Pryce was among those who called for the current system to be reviewed, because he said that it removed any incentive for colleges to offer pay rises higher than the AoC recommendations.
“We should start as a sector with the view that colleges want to pay their staff well, but in general we think people prize job security first so pay levels have to reflect the financial climate,” he says. “Focusing only on the pay award – which is always small, by comparison with these differences – is unhelpful.
“If unions looked to work with individual colleges to maximise pay levels but accept that might mean a variety of outcomes, I think that we would see pay rise faster.
“In addition, though, it is important for unions to offer ways to help afford pay increases by suggesting and delivering higher productivity.”
Lambeth College has been hit hard by industrial action in recent years, culminating in an indefinite walkout in June 2014, which lasted six weeks, in response to plans to introduce new contracts.
It is one of the 12 colleges where a ballot opened this week. Esol teacher Mandy Brown, one of two branch secretaries, says that lecturers are “tired of always being bottom of the pile”, having had no pay increase for seven years. No rise has been offered for 2017-18.
“Members are really angry,” Brown says. “We haven’t even had the AoC recommended increases – and every time there is a round of redundancies, who picks up the extra work?”
The union is demanding a 9.9 per cent rise – even higher than the national figure – at Lambeth. Interim principal Monica Box says that, “whilst understanding the union case,” the college is unable to offer a rise at this stage.