More colleges could be set for strike action over pay, after the University and College Union (UCU) decided to reissue ballots to branches where the legal threshold for action was missed by a small margin.
The Trade Union Act 2016, which came into force last year, means that for strike action to be legal, 50 per cent of union members in a college have to vote in a ballot, with a majority voting in favour of strike action.
Despite 85 per cent of participants in the recent ballot, which closed earlier this month, voting for walkouts, only six UCU branches hit the 50 per cent threshold.
At a meeting of the UCU FE committee on Friday, it was decided to consult college branches about whether to reissue a ballot in cases where the original turnout was higher than 35 per cent. This means that 27 colleges out of the 110 initially balloted face another ballot. Other branches with a lower turnout but which are keen to reballot could also be included.
UCU head of policy and campaign Matt Waddup said: "Overall turnout and support for strike action in the recent pay ballot was strong, but pernicious rules on turnout have frustrated many members’ wishes to take action. We are clear that anti-union laws will not stand in the way of our campaign for fair pay in further education, so will be re-balloting members in a number of institutions where support was strong but the restrictive turnout requirement was missed."
In their 2018-19 pay claim, the unions representing college employees have asked for a pay rise of 5 per cent, or a fixed increase of £1,500 for staff earning less than £30,000 per year.
National strikes ruled out
Turnout in the first UCU ballot across the country was 31 per cent, ruling out national strike action at this stage. However, not all colleges were balloted. This figure was higher than the 21.2 per cent achieved in the last truly national ballot back in 2015, before the new strike laws came into effect.
As the ballot was disaggregated, branches that met the 50 per cent threshold can take strike action on a college-by-college basis. This threshold was only met by six UCU branches: Bath College, Bradford College, Croydon College, Lambeth College, New College Swindon and Petroc.
While it was initially announced by UCU that just four colleges had met the threshold, the two London colleges – Croydon and Lambeth – also achieved the required numbers. This was announced separately, owing to the ballots also including addtional issues regarding local employment conditions.