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Welsh College staff set to strike on pay

College lecturers in Wales have voted by an overwhelming majority, busting the undemocratic Tory strike threshold, to strike for an improved pay offer and against increasing workloads.

The employers organisation, Colegau Cymru, have refused to recognise the all Wales ballot demanding that the union divides up the dispute college by college, even though Colegau Cymru negotiates for all the colleges collectively and hides behind the issue of all Wales funding for colleges by the Welsh government. The bosses laughably say it is not a national dispute but “a series of negotiations facilitated by Colegau  Cymru”.

Clare Gibbs, UCU Coleg y Cymoed (personal capacity) takes up the story

Lecturers across Wales, are to strike in a dispute on pay.  There was overwhelming support to strike from UCU Wales members, with 90.5% in support of strike action on a 52.3% turnout.  There was also a 53.8% turnout over a workload ballot with 90.1% in favour of action.

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.  In January 2018 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 experienced. Education workers cannot afford any more pay cuts; they cannot afford not to fight on pay.

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 50, 60 and 70 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 members hope that Colegau Cymru will recognise the damaging effect working conditions and years of real terms pay cuts are having on both staff and subsequently 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.

Dates and details of strike action will be forthcoming.