More strikes could follow in college pay row, UCU leader says

Situation is 'beyond what is survivable' for FE staff, union claims

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FE colleges could be hit by more strikes in the row over pay, a union leader has warned – and members have called for another walkout next month alongside action by staff in sixth-form colleges.

Speaking at a rally in London today, University and College Union (UCU) general secretary Sally Hunt (pictured) said today's strike was "not the end" of its campaign of industrial action, as the pay situation in the sector was "beyond what is survivable".

Addressing UCU and Unison members at the Emmanuel Centre, Ms Hunt said: "This is not the end. If we have to do this again, then we do this again."

She continued: "The UCU [striking] on its own, or Unison on its own, isn’t going to make a difference. What is going to make a difference is if we start building an alliance with public sector unions, education unions, and others in our sector that are willing to say that the funding situation in further education is beyond what is reasonable."

Joint action with the NUT

Members have also called for a joint strike on 15 March with the NUT, which is currently balloting its members in sixth-form colleges over potential action in a separate dispute over the level of government funding.

Speaking at the rally, UCU FE committee member Richard McEwan said: "If the NUT [is] out on strike on 15 March, and they've called a national demonstration, we should be part of it on that day [as well]."

Ms Hunt also criticised Association of Colleges' (AoC) recommendation that its members shouldn't offer a pay rise to their staff for 2015-16. "Employers need to know that what is taking place here isn’t by accident – it isn’t just because of government policy," she told members. "It is a strategy that the employers through the AoC actively adopted. They are using you to hide from their responsibilities to stand up for further education and today is about us doing a job that our employers should be doing.

"The last thing that we want to do is to take strike action, but sometimes you have to take strike action in order to defend your students, to defend their education and to defend further and higher education in this country. You are doing the right thing."

Speaking yesterday Marc Whitworth, the AoC's director of employment policy and services, said the recommendation not to offer a pay rise for college staff "reflects the specific financial challenges faced by our members".

"Colleges are facing increases to pension and national insurance contributions during 2015-16 and this, coupled with reductions in funding, means that we have been unable to recommend an unsustainable increase in costs to our college members," he added. "No further dialogue has been scheduled with our union colleagues regarding this cycle of negotiations."

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