'Why we cannot make lecturers a better offer on pay'

Scotland's colleges simply cannot afford to further increase the offer currently on the table, writes John Gribben

strike pay conditions funding colleges EIS Scotland

Lecturing staff in Scotland are a key part of the college sector’s success, which is precisely why they are well paid and enjoy excellent terms and conditions of service.

The overall pay increases and improvements in lecturers’ terms and conditions in recent years have been substantial, so it is disappointing that the Educational Institute of Scotland Further Education Lecturers’ Association (EIS-FELA) is striking for the third time in four years.

The strike is over a 2017-20 pay dispute. The 2017 pay agreement between colleges and the EIS-FELA introduced salary harmonisation, with the vast majority of lecturers benefiting from significant pay increases, as salaries for unpromoted lecturers were increased to the top salary point available, which was £40,026. By April 2019, over 90 per cent of lecturers will be at the top.

Pay and conditions

National-average pay increased by over 9 per cent, and terms and conditions improved, including 62 days’ annual leave, a reduction in weekly contact with students to 23 hours, and excellent pensions provision.

Colleges also committed to paying approximately 1,500 lecturers, who are all progressing through the pay scales and don’t have formal teaching qualifications, to gain a TQFE during their existing hours, with paid time off from teaching.

Covering the same three-year period, colleges have made an additional pay offer, which, combined with harmonisation, equates to a national-average increase of over 12 per cent, or well over £4,000, but this was rejected by the EIS-FELA.

The pay increases from harmonisation are directly connected to the additional pay offer on the table over the same three-year period and cannot be separated – a pay rise is a pay rise, irrespective of where it comes from.     

Efficiencies required

It is good news for the sector that the Scottish government is paying for the substantial increases in lecturers’ pay from harmonisation, but the £10 million cost to colleges for this additional pay offer comes from making cuts and, as public sector bodies, colleges must also continue to make 3 per cent annual efficiency savings.

Representatives for colleges have held 11 pay meetings with the EIS-FELA and are keen to resolve the dispute quickly, which is why we have now made a total of five offers that either increased or restructured the additional pay offer during negotiations. However, finances are extremely tight, and colleges cannot afford to further increase the offer.

Regrettably, the EIS-FELA representatives abruptly left the last meeting, refusing to consult their members on the restructured offer. They asked for consolidated Public Sector Pay Policy and colleges have offered that in Year 3. The EIS-FELA agreed in principle to flat cash payments in Years 1 and 2, but rejected our Year 2 amount.

Support staff pay

The EIS-FELA wants arm’s-length foundations (ALFs) to fund bigger pay increases, but this is a red herring, as they are independent from colleges and are designed to focus on strategic investment in education rather than operational issues.

The money in ALFs is not recurring funding and could not be used for ongoing operational costs, such as staff pay.  

In October 2018, after negotiations and compromises by both sides, colleges reached agreement with the support staff trade unions, Unison, Unite and GMB, and signed a two-and-a-half-year pay and conditions of service deal. 

As part of that deal, support staff – who receive 45 days’ annual leave compared with 62 for lecturers – will go through a job-evaluation process to consider issues of pay equality and, while lecturers have harmonised pay, the EIS-FELA has repeatedly refused to agree to job evaluation for lecturers, or indeed negotiate pay alongside support staff. The job-evaluation process is separate from harmonisation.

Cherry-picking

The EIS-FELA is looking to cherry-pick the best parts of the support-staff deal, but we must look at the overall package for lecturers. Any deal with the EIS-FELA must be affordable and sustainable for the sector, but if colleges were to give in to the EIS-FELA’s pay demands, it would mean fewer courses, fewer students and fewer jobs in the college sector, which is in no one’s best interests. 

The EIS-FELA is threatening to escalate the strike and, in its official February 2019 newsletter, it has vowed that the “proposed action will involve withholding assessment results – not from the students, but from management systems”. 

This is the irresponsible behaviour of an organisation that does not care about how its actions affect students. If it withholds assessments from colleges, it would wreak havoc with students’ chances of moving on to other courses at college or going to university to study.

Lecturers in Scotland have terrific pay, as well as enviable terms and conditions. College lecturers in England are paid approximately £31,000, while the average in Scotland is more than £40,000.

We urge the EIS-FELA to call off its unnecessary and disruptive strike action, which is adversely affecting students the most.

We will continue to engage and negotiate with the EIS-FELA until an agreement is reached, but it must be within an affordable financial envelope.

John Gribben is director of employment services at the Colleges Scotland Employers’ Association

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