Support staff holiday is a ‘dog’s breakfast’, unions say

16th January 2015 at 00:00
Huge discrepancies in annual leave emphasise the need for national bargaining as negotiations drag on

Holiday entitlement among college support staff can vary by as much as 60 per cent, new figures show.

Data obtained by TESS from support staff union Unison reveals a huge variation in holiday conditions across the Scottish further education sector. For example, staff at one college are entitled to 20 days of holiday per year plus 10 public holidays, while at another, their peers receive 36 days plus 12 public holidays – a difference of 60 per cent.

The list, which does not name individual institutions, also shows that lecturers, which are represented by the EIS-FELA union, are entitled to between 41 and 75 days’ holiday a year. Unison’s Scottish organiser John Gallacher said that the differences were the result of years of individual bargaining and posed “a significant challenge”.

‘Urgent’ situation

Support staff’s terms and conditions were like “a dog’s breakfast”, Mr Gallacher argued, adding: “We need to address this situation urgently as it impacts on the morale of staff in our colleges but it also has an adverse impact on our students. If colleges all have staff on different contracts and different annual leave, it makes it very difficult to create a standard for students across Scotland.

“It’s time college boards and senior managers got their acts together and work with us to create a sector where we are all moving forward together for the benefit of staff and students. We are calling on employers to urgently sit down with us and try and find a solution. We are hopeful that the national bargaining machinery will provide a solution to this problem quickly.”

A return to national bargaining was one of the reforms enshrined in the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Act 2013. As a result, the National Joint Negotiating Committee was set up, with members including representatives of college management as well as the four recognised unions in the sector. However, negotiations have had mixed success.

Unison members are still considering the latest pay offer made by representatives for management. The offer would see the minimum number of days of annual leave rising to 27, as well as including a pay increase for all staff. Members have been encouraged to accept the offer by the union’s committee.

However, Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS union, said that it was increasingly clear that the government’s manifesto aim of delivering national terms and conditions by voluntary means was at risk.

“Put simply, the current national bargaining process will not deliver a national set of terms and conditions unless the Scottish government takes action to compel colleges to comply with the spirit of a true national bargaining process,” he insisted. The union rejected a pay offer in October.

Deficit warning

College funding has been under increasing pressure in recent years. Deputy first minister John Swinney recently confirmed that government funding to the sector would remain stable. But one principal told TESS this week that the proposed pay rise of 1 per cent would add hundreds of thousands of pounds to his college’s salary bill. And he added that there could be significant costs to colleges for additional holiday days, particularly when staff absence had to be covered.

He stressed that some differences in pay and conditions were due to institutions’ economic environment, explaining: “Some colleges have to pay higher salaries because of the labour market they are competing with.”

Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said that the organisation continued to be dedicated to addressing the variation resulting from individual bargaining. “But this cannot be achieved overnight. It will require working closely with the trade unions and other relevant stakeholders to ensure that adequate resources are identified to begin that process of standardisation.”

A spokesman said that the government remained committed to national bargaining in the FE sector. “However, we recognise that moving towards this approach was always going to be challenging given the level of change required.

“For this reason, we consider this year to be a transitional year where we expect a willingness on both sides to move things forward; not everything can be achieved quickly, or all at once. However, it is important that staff and the sector begin working together in order to identify the issues and make progress.”

According to Unison, there are about 4,400 full-time equivalent support staff in Scottish colleges – more than the number of lecturers.

@TESScotland

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