The University and College Union will launch its first national consultative ballot over college pay in five years next week.
The union has announced that an online meeting will be held on 21 April, the eve of the launch, with speakers including UCU general secretary Jo Grady, former shadow chancellor John McDonnell, John Kelly from Scotland's EIS-FELA union, and Andrew Harden, UCU's head of FE.
Ms Grady said: "UCU’s #RebuildFE campaign is calling for investment in colleges after decades of cuts. College staff have seen their pay cut by over 30 per cent in real terms and we are supporting members to launch local claims over pay with a national consultative ballot. Strong, properly funded further education is central to creating a fairer and more sustainable society. Thriving colleges can help tackle social, economic and regional inequalities, allowing people to upskill and return to education as adults.
"Without rebuilding FE, we cannot recover properly from the pandemic, close the skills gap after Brexit or transition to the green economy of the future. The UK government talks of ‘levelling up’ and ‘building back better’. If these empty slogans are going to have any substance, we need investment in our colleges.
Demands for 'fair pay' for college staff
"Since 2009, 24,000 teaching jobs have been lost in our colleges, and the pay gap between college lecturers and school teachers has widened to an average of £9,000. If these trends continue, more staff will leave the sector. To rebuild FE, we need a huge investment in staff, ensuring fair pay and a boost for recruitment and retention."
The invitation to next week's launch event, held by UCU London Region, says that, despite the words of praise and goodwill from government for the sector, as well as the emphasis on how colleges are central to rebuilding post-Covid, no extra funding had been made available.
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It adds: "In fact, government has signalled [its] intent to make us pay for the public health crisis, as they did with the bankers' crisis in 2008.
"We have demonstrated on numerous occasions that when we fight, we can win significant increases in pay. In 2017-18 a number of colleges, as part of the FE Fights Back campaign, were successful in winning significant pay awards."
The union added it was "not alone in its fight for decent pay". "The outrage that has met the government’s insulting 1 per cent pay award to NHS staff is something we can all identify with. Our campaign this year will be in the context of a growing resistance amongst public sector workers over pay.
"Pay, of course, is not the only issue members are concerned about; workload, attacks on our professional autonomy and casualisation are all areas that we need to push back on. Local claims can be attached to the national pay claim and be sent out to your members alongside the national consultation on industrial action on pay."
In December, the Association of Colleges, which represents employers in national pay discussions in England, recommended that further education staff should get a pay rise of 1 per cent or £250 – whichever is greater – in 2020-21.
In a statement, the AoC said it was “disappointing and regrettable that the sector is unable to afford a better offer at this time”, and that it “strongly advised that those colleges who can afford to award staff more should do so”.