Pay and conditions - College staff get ready for action

17th January 2014 at 00:00
Lecturers to vote on strike after `attack' on terms of service

Students could face days of disruption as the prospect of strike action by teaching staff at Edinburgh College looms.

Members of the EIS-FELA union this week opened a ballot on whether to take industrial action over the terms and conditions proposed by the management of the new college, which was created through a merger in 2012.

The two sides have been in gridlock for months over a plan to standardise terms and conditions, which the union views as a serious "attack".

In December, an overwhelming majority of EIS-FELA members at the college rejected the offer, which aimed to bring salaries and contact hours at the college's campuses in line with each other.

Many close to the dispute believe this indicates that strike action is almost inevitable.

In addition to the impact a strike would have on students, EIS-FELA said that the ongoing conflict would also have wider implications for further education in Scotland.

Penny Gower, EIS-FELA branch secretary at Edinburgh College and national president of the union, told TESS: "There is no doubting the seriousness of the attack on our conditions.

"This has national implications not just because we have 10 per cent of the EIS-FELA membership in the one college.

"Most importantly, if we are unsuccessful in our attempt to stop management from abolishing our class contact maximum, lecturers are left facing potential 56-hour working weeks, including 35 hours' class contact and their associated hours of preparation and marking at times of management's choosing. (This means that) the education service we provide would suffer."

When the strike action would take place and how long it would last is not yet clear.

"We know from experience the hard work and long hours that Edinburgh College staff put in to help our students succeed," said Kelly Parry, president of Edinburgh College's students' association. "It's only right that staff at our college, and colleges and universities throughout Scotland, are fairly compensated for that work."

She urged college management to try to reach an agreement with the union: "Staff morale certainly has an impact on teaching quality, which is why it is important that in the coming weeks Edinburgh College does not use this issue to set students against staff, but instead concentrates on engaging with EIS-FELA to quickly resolve this dispute by reaching a deal that is fair for both parties."

Unison, which represents support staff, and whose members comprise around half of the college's employees, agreed to a deal offered by management in August last year that aimed to "protect jobs, harmonise conditions and secure pay increases over two years".

A spokeswoman for the college said that negotiations with EIS-FELA were ongoing and that it would be "premature to call for industrial action while talks are still continuing".

"Edinburgh College teaching staff are currently on three different sets of terms and conditions, although all teaching staff benefit from 60 days' holiday a year and a final-salary pension scheme," she said.

"The college wants to achieve harmonisation of terms and conditions for all lecturing staff, including pay, and reach a position which will be good for staff, will benefit the student experience and will be sustainable in the longer term."

If a strike were to take place, the college would do "all (it) can" to minimise the effect on students, the spokeswoman added.

Edinburgh College was created in 2012 through the merger of Edinburgh's Telford College, Jewel and Esk College and Stevenson College Edinburgh.

The merger took place only months before the launch of the Scottish government's regionalisation agenda. This has resulted in the creation of 13 college regions - most with only a single, merged college.

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