By Clare Gibbs, Coleg Y Cymoedd UCU (in a personal capacity)
Lecturers across Wales will be taking strike action over pay and workload on Tuesday 4th December, Thursday 13th December and Friday 14th December. This has been decided following the fantastic ballot result of University and College Union members who voted overwhelmingly to support. On pay the result was 90.5% in support of strike action with a 52.3% turnout. On workload there was a 53.8% turnout with 90.1% in favour of action. Both ballot results comfortably meet the thresholds set by the undemocratic 2016 Trade Union Act indicating the strength of feeling amongst lecturing staff over these issues.
The Joint Trade Unions (JTUs) met Colegau Cymru (CC), the college Principal’s representative body, on Friday 16th November. This meeting did not result in a revised offer. The meeting was very brief and CC claimed they haven’t received additional funding from Welsh Government yet and are awaiting the outcome in January. It is clear that Colegau Cymru are testing our resolve.
The Further Education sector in Wales is in crisis and the increasing intensity of workloads, coupled with job cuts and a decade of real-terms pay cuts are leading to low staff morale and having a negative impact on the quality of learners’ education. A decade of Tory imposed austerity and woefully inadequate funding has devastated the FE sector in Wales. In effect we have witnessed ten years of barbaric educational vandalism.
Pay is a crucial issue for education workers. Members have endured approximately a 20% pay cut in real terms over the last decade. Our members are seeking support from charities as they face financial difficulties. Education workers cannot afford any more pay cuts; they cannot afford not to fight on pay. Learners deserve lecturers who are well-paid and members deserve to be valued for the vital work they do.
In addition to pay cuts, FE lecturers are being forced to the brink due to unsustainable and oppressive workloads. A UCU Wales Survey on workload showed that members are working on average 50 hour weeks, but getting paid for 37. Lecturers are literally working two days for free as they attempt to cover up the cracks in the system.
No lecturer wants to take industrial action and UCU Coleg y Cymoedd hopes that Colegau Cymru will recognise the damaging effect working conditions are having on both staff and students. Welsh Government and Colegau Cymru must understand that the working conditions of lecturers are the learning conditions of students. Unless there is proper investment in the FE sector, Wales and its population will face an uncertain future as opportunities to upskill, reskill and flourish are limited and chances of secure and rewarding employment damaged.
Messages of solidarity would be welcome and please support local college pickets on the 4th, 13th and 14th of December. Attendance would also be welcome at a lobby of the Senedd on the 4th December (time to be confirmed). Supporters could also donate to the UCU Wales Hardship Fund to help some of our lowest paid members to take strike action; details below:
UCU Wales Hardship Fund
Unity Bank, sort code: 608301, account number: 20085704.
Cheques made payable to UCU Wales Hardship Fund and send to UCU Wales FE Treasurer: David Morgan, 12 Buccaneer way, Newport NP10 8ER.