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Unions on collision course with colleges over bid to slash sick pay

The Association of Colleges (AoC) is on a collision course with six trade unions over contentious plans to slash sick pay for FE staff.

The AoC has put forward a new sick pay policy which could see long-serving staff miss out on up to two months of sick leave on full pay, plus an additional four months on half pay, each year.

The unions have slammed the changes as “unjustified and unacceptable”; they will meet tomorrow to decide whether staff should withdraw all cover for colleagues absent through sickness.

But the AoC has insisted that change is necessary to cut the £21 million bill for sick pay which its members are saddled with each year.

The proposals would see college employees on probation receive statutory sick pay only, rising to one month on full pay and one month on half pay once they have passed their probation period.

Under the previous scheme, all staff received one month on full pay and, after four months’ service, two months on half pay in this period.

This rose to six months on full pay and six months on half pay per year, after five years’ service. Under the revised proposals, however, staff would receive a maximum of four months’ paid leave with two months on half pay.

The six unions representing teaching, support and managerial staff in the sector – the AMiE, ATL, GMB, UCU, Unison and Unite – have unanimously rejected the proposals.

“The unions are calling for further talks to prevent a stand-off at a time when staff are already under considerable stress because of funding cuts and attacks on their pay and conditions,” a statement issued by Unison said.

Emma Mason, the AoC’s director of employment policy and services, insisted the new policy was “competitive with public service terms and conditions while responding to member colleges’ requirements”.

“The joint trade unions have persistently refused to accept that change is required and in rejecting our proposals have missed an opportunity to retain a national recommendation that would maintain a generous and consistent benefit,” she said.

“Sickness absence costs colleges nationally approximately £16.1 million in sick pay costs alone, rising to £21.1 million when taking into account further direct and indirect costs, such as lost productivity, cover staff, training and redeployment costs, management time and the impact on learners.”

But Jon Richards, Unison’s head of education, said that sickness absence levels in the sector had actually decreased.

“We believe it is important to manage sickness absence so as to not put additional strain on the rest of the workforce. However, the key is in good management, not in this heavy-handed approach that adds insult to injury.

“We have offered to negotiate around a sickness management policy with the employers, which would be a far more equitable route to go down.

“Instead, this attack on sickness arrangements runs the risk of alienating staff and removing current good will practices. The vast majority of such absences are currently covered by staff, which means the employers are not liable for any additional expense.”

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