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UCU threatens strike over pay for college staff

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College lecturers in the University and College Union could take national strike action if all staff are not awarded a £1 per hour pay rise.

At the union's annual congress in Glasgow today, UCU members in the FE sector voted to support the joint union pay claim for 2015-16 - and to ballot members for strike action if their demands were not met by the Association of Colleges.

The union also agreed that the pay claim should be part of a wider campaign to protect funding for further and adult education in England, with cuts threatening provision, as well as jobs and employees' working conditions. Delegates pledged to work with employers and other stakeholders to argue the sector's case.

But the move could increase tension between the union and the AoC, with further funding cuts expected under the new Conservative government likely to place strain on college budgets.

National executive member Richard McEwan told delegates that there was a need to send a "clear message to employers". "We have to show that we are really serious on this," he said. "What we are trying to do is increase the funding for FE. A national campaign about pay is needed, but it also gives us a chance to address other issues."

Margot Hill, also a member of the UCU executive, stressed that time was of the essence. "[Government ministers] have lit the blue touch paper," she said. "It will be pay, it will be pension agreements, it will be jobs. We need to get working fast. We need to do something now."

However, some members cautioned against immediately balloting for action on the pay claim, and suggested additional consultation with members should take place first.

The national executive's Jenny Prideaux told delegates: "Presenting members with a fait accompli with an immediate move to a ballot is not democratic representation." David Branson from Middlesburgh College agreed, telling the conference: "We face one of the most severe attacks we have ever faced as a union. If we are to resist those sorts of attacks, we need the support of our members."

National pay negotiations for the college sector are conducted in the national joint forum, made up of union representatives and the AoC. However individual colleges are free to decide whether to adhere to national agreements.

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