Pay for college staff is now 21.5 per cent lower in real terms than it was in 2009, according to the University and College Union (see pages 56-59). So any prospect of the public sector pay cap being lifted would be great news for those working in the sector, surely?
Well, not necessarily. Welcome to the Byzantine process by which college staff’s pay is set.
Every year, representatives of the six main unions representing college staff ask for a pay rise, which they know they will never receive. Depending on the stance taken by the colleges – which have also had their government funding slashed since 2009 – the Association of Colleges will either table a significantly smaller increase, or no increase at all.
The unions will then decide whether to accept the deal on the table. If they decide it is not satisfactory, they will ask for more money. This may or may not result in a slight increase.
If this is still deemed unacceptable, the unions must ballot their members on whether they are prepared to take industrial action. Often, they aren’t – largely because they are not prepared to lose a day’s pay. In recent times, only UCU and Unison have followed through on their threats to strike. On each occasion, no better offer followed.
At the end of this circuitous process, a pay rise is finalised – with or without the unions’ consent. But even this is not binding: individual colleges make the final decision on what pay rise to offer. For example, in 2014-15, a 1 per cent rise tabled for the majority of staff ended up being ignored by 40 per cent of colleges.
Despite discussions last year, AoC members decided to retain the national negotiations which many of them choose to pay no attention to. The reason? It seems no one is prepared to think of anything better.
The charade of “national” pay deals in FE needs to come to an end – it’s up to all parties to come up with a pragmatic, flexible approach to pay that offers a better chance of staff being rewarded for their efforts.