Battle lines in a dispute over pay between Scotland’s college lecturers and management have deepened further with teaching staff due to go back on strike tomorrow and on Thursday. College managers have accused teaching staff of demanding a four-day week on top of the salaries of over £40,000 that have already been agreed, while teaching union EIS-FELA called those claims “bizarre” and said there had been “a distinct lack of meaningful negotiation” from management.
Meanwhile, Scotland’s exam body is saying it is working hard to ensure there is no impact on students from lecturers’ decision to continue their industrial action – including action short of strike action that means not putting assessment results into management systems.
Cost of living pay increase
The dispute centres around lecturer calls for what they believe to be a fair cost-of-living increase. Management, meanwhile, say following the significant pay increase most lecturers had seen as part of the return to national bargaining, which will see all lecturers move onto a pay scale towards over £40,000, any further increase has to be tied to changes in terms and conditions.
This has been rejected by teaching staff. Last week, planned strikes were called off to allow for negotiations to take place, but after no deal was reached, EIS-FELA announced they would walk out for two days this week.
Today, interim director of employment services for Colleges Scotland Employers’ Association, Heather Stevenson, said: “The EIS-FELA is continuing with its strike action and action short of strike action and is demanding that lecturers have an automatic right to a four-day week in college and get paid almost £42,000.
“Colleges have put a generous package on the table which would take over 90 per cent of unpromoted lecturers to £41,426 and provide all lecturers with the right to request flexible working arrangements, but colleges could never grant this an automatic entitlement for up to seven hours a week for all lecturing staff. That would be simply unsustainable for the college sector and adversely affect students.”
The EIS teaching union, however, said the claims by the employers association were “bizarre”. EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said there had been “a distinct lack of meaningful negotiation from Colleges Scotland, and a lack of urgency on their part to resolve this dispute”.
“Once again today, they have fallen back into the pattern of making increasingly belligerent comments about lecturing staff – including a bizarre claim about the EIS demanding a 4-day working week for lecturers, which has absolutely no basis in reality. Today’s statement from Colleges Scotland only confirms that they understand little about the role of a lecturer, nor about the huge amount of work that lecturers do outwith their class teaching commitment.”
The union rejects any plans by management to link the cost of living pay increase to terms and conditions. “We are balloting our members on national terms and conditions which we agreed with college management as a separate workstream,” said Pam Currie, EIS-FELA president. “This agreement provides for flexible working for college lecturers – a practice which already exists in the sector. It underlines lecturer professionalism and allows for work, such as preparation and marking, to be done off site, with the involvement of the line manager. To seek to portray this as a four-day working week is disingenuous and only serves to frustrate efforts to find a resolution to what is a dispute over pay.”
Recording student results
In March, EIS-FELA members voted overwhelmingly in favour of escalating a programme of industrial action. This included plans to refuse to record student results in their employer’s results system, as well as "withdrawing goodwill", so refuse to carry out activities which are not contractually required.
Ms Currie said feedback from union members and students had been that the withdrawal of goodwill is having “an immediate impact”. “At this stage in the academic year, we believe that colleges rely upon a huge amount of unpaid additional work from teaching staff, whether that be answering student emails out of hours, supporting learners in lunchbreaks or spending the weekend marking assignments. In the space of a few critical weeks, we believe that action short of a strike is leading to a significant backlog with students waiting longer for feedback and thus delaying completion of units.”
She added she did would not expect many student results to be available in mid-May, and this year was no exception. “Our members are committed to a further two days strike action this week and to continuing the action short of a strike. Time is running out, and the management side are playing a dangerous game with the futures of our students.”
A spokesman for the the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), Scotland’s exam body, said the organisation was working with colleges closely, and “continuing to monitor the situation”. “SQA assessments and exams are going ahead as normal, and we are working with our centres to minimise any disruption. As always, SQA is committed to ensuring that candidates receive their results on time. We have an established governance framework in place, where progress and risks are managed, supported by robust contingency plans.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Colleges Scotland Employers’ Association said colleges had put in place contingency plans to ensure that “the attempts by the EIS-FELA to cause disruption to students and colleges by going on strike during the exam period and action short of strike action, including withholding students’ assessment results will not be successful”.
“The assessments are the property of the individual colleges and plans are in place to mitigate disruption. Teaching staff are being asked by the colleges to provide them with their marking results, and the EIS-FELA has provided guidance to their members which requires them to comply with such requests.”
“Colleges have held discussions with award-giving bodies, such as the SQA, and have plans in place to ensure the process for external verification of assessments and during the exam period continues normally. Although it is deeply regrettable that the EIS-FELA chose to target the students in this way, the college sector is confident it will be able to deal with the matter effectively.”
The employers’ association added it had tabled a substantially improved offer, and colleged had offered flexible working arrangements "which give the right for lecturers to request working outwith colleges, subject to operational business needs."
Colleges would never agree to giving this as an automatic entitlement as that would be unsustainable for the sector and lead to a reduced service to students."