By Clare Gibbs, UCU Coleg y Cymoedd (in a personal capacity)
Welsh members of the University and College Union (UCU) in Further Education (FE) are about to receive two strike ballots in disputes on pay and workload declared by their union with Colegau Cymru (the body representing College Principals).
Fight for decent pay!
Pay is a crucial issue for UCU members. The political landscape on pay is better than it’s been for a long time, with the public sector ‘scrap the cap’ campaigns gaining traction with media and the public and the weak Tories split over lifting the cap. Members in English Further Education branches coordinated claims on pay for 6%, with some victories and many teaching unions are calling for 5% and in Scotland EIS is organising around 10%.
Members have endured approximately a 20% pay cut in real terms over the last decade, and we’re not all in it together as we have seen Principal/CEO wages rocket. It’s our members who are seeking support from charities as they face financial difficulties. In January the Education Support Partnership claimed requests for grants went up by 40% with workers citing issues with housing, rent and mortgage arrears. Others were struggling to cover basics such as food, bills and the simple cost of getting to and from work.
Our pay claim of 7.5% goes some way to recompense the losses we’ve experienced. We cannot afford any more pay cuts. We cannot afford not to fight on pay.
End Oppressive Workloads!
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 50, 60 and 70 hour weeks, but getting paid for 37. We are literally working 2 days for free. We cannot provide quality education on the cheap or on our knees; nor should we.
There comes a point when we can no longer go on covering up the cracks in the system. UCU Cymoedd undertook strike action June 2017 as our workloads are unbearable and in January, UCU Wales balloted for national action on workload, with an average of 90% in favour of taking strike action. With its customary arrogance, Colegau Cymru first ignored, then broke promises to negotiate on workload to meet the demands of UCU. The (anti) Trade Union Act states a reballot must occur following a period of 6 months- we must win the ballot again.
A decade of Tory imposed austerity and woefully inadequate funding has devastated our sector in Wales. A process compounded by college employers who have squandered limited budgets on vanity projects and grossly inflated senior staff pay. In effect we have witnessed ten years of barbaric educational vandalism.
The pay and workload dispute is UCU Wales’ most important dispute for a decade. It is essential that UCU members throughout Wales deliver a massive ‘YES’ vote to both ballot papers. It is also imperative we reach the 50% turnout threshold imposed by the Tories in the undemocratic (anti) Trade Union Act.
Voting results will be watched carefully by the employers and Welsh Government politicians. The Westminster government is divided. We have a leadership election in Welsh Labour with an AM who claims to support Corby vying for the position of First Minister. We can and must win this dispute. A victory will defend our members from stress induced by workload and real-term pay cuts, but more importantly a victory will ensure quality education for our learners across the communities we serve.
Ballot opens Monday 24th September and closes on Friday 19th October. Both ballots will arrive in the same envelope. If we reach the 50% threshold and there is a majority for action there will be three weeks of escalating strike action, dates to be confirmed.