Blitz Spirit over pay must be remembered

15th January 2010 at 00:00
Comment: Alan Thomson

Leaving aside the black marketeering, hoarding and explosion in extra-marital liaisons, the Blitz Spirit best summed up British fortitude in the face of adversity during the Second World War.

No wonder it is still invoked when community spirit overcomes greed and self-interest. Anyone who recently helped a neighbour clear their path of snow or who made it to work in the absence of public transport was displaying the Blitz Spirit.

So too are members of the University and College Union (UCU), who voted this week not to strike over what union leaders described as a "derisory" 1.5 per cent offer (page 1). The result was close but, as Barry Lovejoy suggests, the severity of the funding cuts facing colleges appears to have led to many members putting the wider interests of the sector before their own.

It is a remarkable result in that college lecturers are already paid a lot less than school teachers for doing much the same job. One wonders what the teaching unions would have voted for had they been offered 1.5 per cent instead of the 2.3 per cent they were offered and accepted.

It is a mark and strength of the further education community that staff are so loyal to their institutions, their students, and even the principle of FE. What else could explain why talented educators choose to work in a sector with less resource, worse buildings and poorer pay than either schools or universities?

But the UCU vote becomes truly heroic in view of the poor track record of many colleges in honouring agreed pay deals. There is usually a substantial minority that fails to pay up in full, or even at all. And if this wasn't enough to persuade a less loyal workforce to withdraw their labour, there is the perennial provocation of principal pay rises that consistently outstrip staff deals.

Of course, FE must pay the going rate to attract the right calibre of leaders and there is ample evidence that the quality of senior management has improved over the years, in step with their pay packets.

Employers must be thanking their lucky stars this week since, on top of all they have to deal with this year, the last thing they needed was a prolonged dispute over pay.

It is to be hoped they remember that in their hour of need, their staff did the right thing. As businesses dependent on the quality and calibre of their personnel, colleges sell themselves short by failing to properly address pay and conditions.

Alan Thomson, Editor, FE Focus, E:

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