Not a sensible offer, nor a sensible claim

21st May 2010 at 01:00
Comment: Alan Thomson

The 0.2 per cent pay offer to college staff may be seen by some - including employers, obviously - as "better than nothing", which by definition it is. But, honestly, what were employers thinking? Were they so desperate to avoid the dreaded term "pay freeze" that they chose the next nearest sum to nothing that wasn't 0.1 per cent?

It is worth just more than pound;5 a month to a lecturer on average pay, a bonus - for this non-consolidated award is not a pay increment - that staff are almost certain to spend all at once.

Times are hard for further education and, as the new coalition Government hones its axe, look as if they are about to get a deal harder. In such circumstances the unions' 3.5 per cent claim appears absurd, except of course when one compares it to the sort of pay rises enjoyed by principals over the past few years - more than 40 per cent in eight years, says Unison.

Sally Hunt, opposite, calls for a sensible approach from colleges to work through the difficult decisions ahead. But it is hard not to feel that a 3.5 per cent claim and a 0.2 per cent offer are unlikely starting points. If colleges need to freeze pay to balance the books, then they should produce a solid case for doing so and stand their ground. Pay freezes are common enough in the private sector. If the unions want to help FE weather the storm then their leaders must give serious consideration to a pay freeze - one that covers principals too.

Rather than knocking seven bells out of each other this year, might not employers and unions better serve FE by reviewing the current system of pay and conditions, looking beyond the next year or two? As the unions acknowledge, the impact of funding cuts varies already between providers. Economic pressures will force further diversity as colleges respond with new structures and strategies. Pay and conditions must reflect and enable that progress.

Inevitably attention focuses on national pay bargaining - a system tolerated by many employers because it tends to set rises lower than the market might otherwise dictate. But there is far more to play for including, as the unions say, implementing equality pay audits and reducing the use of staff on casual terms and conditions.

Stepping into the middle of a brewing fight is never wise, and FE Focus risks attack from both employers and unions. We merely observe that opportunity is currently in far greater supply than money.

Alan Thomson, Editor, FE Focus?

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