Branches vote to take up pay offer but UCU committee calls for ballot
Union leaders plan to press ahead with strikes that threaten to scupper a 4 per cent pay increase for low-paid college support staff.
The University and College Union's further education committee decided on Saturday that it wants action, which would come hard on the heels of a walk out by postal workers.
The committee under the influence of the "UCU Left" faction, which includes members of the Socialist Workers Party has decided to proceed with a ballot despite many branches across the country making it clear they wanted to accept the 2007-08 pay deal negotiated by the Association of Colleges.
The UCU executive will hope that this recommendation for action will move members to vote for strikes. Recent consultation of branches showed 92 in favour of the AoC offer and 82 against.
Other unions in the joint negotiating team with the AoC including Unison, which represents support staff, and the Association for College Management have agreed the pay offer of 2 per cent backdated to August and a further 1 per cent from February. But the deal cannot be signed without the UCU.
This means colleges will not have to implement a pay rise for any staff.
The deal includes a minimum pound;500 rise for all staff, in addition to the guarantee on percentages.
Unison, whose FE members include some of the lowest paid in Britain, supported the deal because it effectively guarantees the worst-off those close to the minimum wage a 4 per cent increase.
Christine Lewis, of Unison, said: "If UCU takes industrial action over this year's pay we will, of course, respond in a comradely way. But we would appreciate some reciprocal concern for our members, who are overdue a rise and desperately need it."
Sean Vernell, vice-chairman of the UCU's FE committee and an SWP member who supports strike action, said he regards the pay dispute as a "spearhead" in a wider campaign which includes the postal strike against "marketisation" of public services.
He said a majority of delegates at Saturday's meeting had voted in favour of a strike. Some who had previously accepted the deal were won over by arguments on the day.
Almost half of colleges have still not implemented deals agreed for previous years, leaving separate disputes still outstanding in colleges where lecturers are attempting to get what is due to them.
There has also been more unrest about new contracts at colleges, including Barnet in north London and Harlow in Essex the constituency of Bill Rammell, the further and higher education minister.
Sue Dutton, acting chief executive of the AoC, said: "It is extremely disappointing that UCU's special pay conference has rejected this reasonable final recommendation, particularly when it has been accepted by other unions involved in negotiations.
"The AoC does not believe that a national ballot of FE members on industrial action is a productive step towards pay modernisation, particularly when it might end in disruption to students and staff.
"It is also lamentable that the decision of the UCU's conference will delay the planned programme of work on teacher training good practice, training and development and worklife balance guidance."