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UCU Wales Congress prepares for action

By Clare Gibbs, Coleg y Cymoedd delegate (in a personal capacity)

The annual Congress of the University and College Union (UCU) Wales took place on Saturday 21st April in Cardiff. Whilst attendance in general was slightly down in comparison with other years it was great to see a very large delegation from Cardiff University UCU following their inspirational 14 days of strike action in defense of their USS pensions.

A speech from the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams, focused on the new funding body for Post Compulsory Education and Training, with a public consultation due next week. She pledged to communicate with Higher Education (HE) colleagues around the pensions campaign and discussed the impact EU withdrawal could have on HE funding and international students and staff.

Speaking specifically about Further Education (FE) Williams discussed the damning results of the recent EWC Survey whereby staff raised concerns about administration, workload and professional development. She claimed that constraints on Welsh Government’s budget had put much pressure on FE, in particular adult education. Whilst she claimed she was ‘keen’ to address these issues, in the view of many delegates, nothing meaningful was said about rectifying them.

FE Sector Conference Motions

Motions discussed at FE Sector Conference included limiting the use of agency staff, having standardised staff lists to aid organising branches and membership, developing a Common Student Disciplinary System to prioritise staff safety in view of increasing malicious and vexatious learner claims, limiting principals’ pay and tackling stress through the HSE toolkit. All motions were passed unanimously.

Importantly there was also reaffirmation of UCU Wales’ support for disincorporation. Clearly since the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act staff and students have suffered due to the marketisation of our sector and its semi-privatised state. A failed promise by the Welsh Labour Government to disincorporate in 2011 has meant further privatisation and NPISH (Non Profit Institution Serving Household) status. Clearly we need an FE system which is democratically accountable to staff, students and local communities.

There were two motions on pay claims. One called for a £1 on the hour uplift (a claim abandoned by the Joint Trade Unions for consecutive years) and the motion from Coleg Y Cymoedd called for 5%. Delegates argued that we have endured a 20% real terms pay cut over a decade and that a 5% claim was stronger in recompensing losses. Other education unions are also calling for 5%. Following some debate Cymoedd’s motion was preferred by Congress delegates.

A motion from Coleg Y Cymoedd to re-table the original workload claim to the employers,  Colegau Cymru, rather than the amended climb down, was ruled as ‘out of order’ by the Congress Business Committee the previous evening. To challenge CBC’s ruling 10 names were secured in support and our motion was allowed. This was overwhelmingly supported by delegates and is now UCU Wales policy.