Strike not - it's a blow to our cause

1st June 2001 at 01:00
WITH regard to the article "Waiting game for pay is over", I would like to set the record straight. Last week, a minority of teaching and learning staff in colleges chose to go on strike. The majority did not strike.

We are competing with the urgent claims of many other public-sector services when we ask for more money for colleges, including better pay for all our staff. Expectations are high. The Teaching Pay Initiative will put some pound;300 million earmarked funding for pay into colleges over the next three years.

Whatever its pros and cons, this is the first time that any government has funded colleges' pay, as opposed to schools where pay awards are fully funded centrally. It is very important that our sector has the confidence of the Government and, therefore, the limited support for last week's strike action has been helpful.

The Association of Colleges, in conjunction with all the recognised unions, will be amplifying its message during the election campaign, and afterwards to the next government, that all staff must be better paid.

The AOC's own manifesto is unequivocal on this. To do so, we are demanding a healthy financial environment for colleges, because this will enable them to fund reasonable pay settlements for all staff. The Department for Education and Employment's own figures show that colleges have only just recovered their 1996-97 funding levels.Next year will see a small improvement and the following year a greater one. Even so, these improvements are largely based on ring-fenced funds which offer little opportunity for directing monies into pay. Again, the AOC has set out its claim in the manifesto : "The new Government must increase the baseline funding for colleges, to overcome the decline in real unit costs of the past few years."

The AOC membership represents all colleges in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Our nationally-negotiated annual pay award is implemented by about three-quarters of these colleges, although some struggle to do so.

Many others wish to implement the award but cannot afford to do so. Mostprincipals and governing bodies feel deeply frustrated about this situation which is caused, not by lack of effort or apathy, but by very difficult financial conditions.

We are still conducting national negotiations on pay for 2001-02. The level of pay claims submitted mean the average extra cost to a medium-sized college would be about pound;2m - a sum which could not be afforded by any college. In the light of colleges' replies to our consultation about affordability, an opening offer of a 3 per cent increase for salaries and allowances was made. In addition, consideration of:

* joint lobbying of the Government for improved funding for pay * the development of a long-term pay strategy designed to restore salary levels in line with other education deliverers under the Learning and Skills Council. This will involve setting out to the new Government the sums of money required for FE pay to redress the imbalance with schools and sixth-form colleges * a minimum pay rate of pound;5.11 per hour for all support staff * a national agreement on guidance regarding working hours and annual leave entitlements for all support staff * a review of agency employment and pay rates * the development of a formal agreement for facility time, including lay officers * lump-sum performance merit awards of up to 7 per cent for all FE managers.

For comparison, awards in schools and local government are 3.7 per cent and 3.5 per cent respectively.

The AOC's 3 per cent opening offer, in accordance with our members' wishes, and consideration of the other elements in the claim are currently under constructive discussion with all the trade unions of the National Joint Forum. We are committed to working with the forum to secure a deal satisfactory to all sides. There is general agreement that pay levels must be lifted across the sector and we are working hard on behalf of all colleges, and in close co-operation with the recognised unions, to achieve that goal.

David Gibson

Chief executive

Association of Colleges

Centre Point

103 New Oxford St,. London

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