Colleges warn even 1% pay rise would be ‘unaffordable’

9th October 2015 at 00:00
Unions are losing patience over wait for ‘reasonable offer’

The three Glasgow colleges have raised concerns over the affordability of a pay increase for staff as national bargaining negotiations continue.

Alan Sherry, principal of Glasgow Kelvin College and convenor of the Glasgow Colleges’ Group, stressed that it was “committed to supporting the return to national collective bargaining”. But he warned that a 1 per cent pay rise, which TESS understands was offered by employers’ representatives earlier this summer, could prove too costly.

In a letter to Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, he writes: “The position of the Glasgow colleges is that a 1 per cent pay award is not affordable in the current year as a consequence of the resources available to the region.”

He adds that the colleges are opposed “in principle” to proposals that would mean they have to run a deficit in 2015-16, and asks Ms Struthers to allow employers to identify the “red lines” they won’t cross at the negotiating table.

A return to national bargaining was one of the reforms enshrined in the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Act 2013, in a bid to make pay and conditions more equal across the sector. The National Joint Negotiating Committee (NJNC) was set up to facilitate this, with members including representatives of college management and the four recognised unions.

Meetings have been held for more than a year, but unions have criticised the lack of progress. In May, the EIS-FELA union, which represents college lecturers, announced that it had lodged a dispute over pay, citing “failure to make a reasonable pay offer in 2015-16 NJNC negotiations”.

TESS understands that in July employers made an offer of 1 per cent, which was seen as unacceptable by EIS-FELA. The NJNC is due to meet again later this month, but union representatives told TESS that patience among staff was wearing thin. A spokesman for EIS-FELA said pay negotiators and the executive committee were “losing patience with colleges for not putting forward a reasonable pay offer and for the slow process”.

The executive was hoping that the pay dispute would be resolved but was “planning for an escalation of the current pay dispute”, the spokesman added.

Delay could be ‘catastrophic’

John Gallacher, Scottish organiser of Unison, which represents college support staff, said members were “disappointed that there seem to be elements within the sector who wish to slow down this process even more than it currently has been”.

He added: “We need negotiations to result in a decent pay offer which would be acceptable to our members. Further procrastination or posturing could be catastrophic and see the sector become embroiled in unrest, which no one wants or needs at this time.”

Mr Sherry’s letter, dated 14 July, was published as part of the colleges’ management board meeting papers for September. The papers also include a response by Colleges Scotland, which outlines the umbrella body’s position.

This week, Ms Struthers told TESS that her organisation was committed to implementing the government’s policy to deliver national bargaining. “We are actively working with all parties as part of the new national bargaining process,” she added.

Glasgow Kelvin College said the board was supportive of the return to national collective bargaining and anticipated that those involved would “conduct negotiations within the resources available to the sector”.

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