Northern Ireland

FE lecturer unions call on Conor Murphy to start ‘putting worthy words into implementable actions’ over pay and conditions

Members of the UCU and NASUWT recently voted to reject what they have described as an ‘insulting’ pay offer

FE workers at the Metropolitan College Millfield campus, who began a week-long strike action on Monday. Picture by Mal McCann
FE workers, pictured last year at the Metropolitan College Millfield campus, have been involved in strike action relating to pay and conditions. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN

Unions representing further education lecturers in Northern Ireland have written to the economy minister calling on him to “commence the process of putting worthy words into implementable actions”.

The University and College Union (UCU) and NASUWT are urging Conor Murphy to increase pay for lecturers, stop the current redundancy process and make changes to working conditions.

In a joint letter, they have asked the Sinn Féin minister to “urgently engage with us to develop a plan to close the pay gap in education in Northern Ireland”.

Members of the two unions voted to reject what they have described as an “insulting” pay offer.

They had been offered a 5% uplift plus an unconsolidated payment of £1,500.

Earlier this month, education minister Paul Givan announced a pay offer for teachers equating to a cumulative total of 10.4%, plus £1,000 being applied to the other teachers’ and leadership pay scales.

Last year it also emerged up to 300 positions could be cut at the north’s six FE colleges due to budgetary pressures.

In the letter to Mr Murphy, the unions highlight the “disparity” of pay between FE lecturers and school teachers.

“You do continue to state that it is our skills base that is attractive to overseas investors, yet this has not been recognised in the pay offer made to lecturers,” the letter states.

“From September 2023 the school teacher basic salary is £30K, this is £5,504 more than an FE lecturer on point one of the pay scale.

“With this in mind, how do we attract the talent desperately needed to deliver skills-based education into colleges?

Economy Minister Conor Murphy said work is continuing to resolve the dispute
Economy Minister Conor Murphy

“The disparity at the top of the scale is even more stark, with the pay gap between lecturer and schoolteacher amounting to £6,554.

“How can this be fair for two sets of workers doing the same job?

“How can college employers be expected to compete either with the education sector to attract staff or with industry where salaries are also much higher?”

The letter added that “teachers have the capability, in some circumstances, to earn up £14,703 for additional duties”.

“Those same duties which are requirements in the lecturer contract do not attract any extra remuneration in the FE sector and this widens the pay gap yet further,” the unions said.

“It is now incumbent on you to fix the negotiating arrangements, stop the redundancy process, increase pay and ensure that lecturers have working conditions which are statutorily compliant and capable of enticing new lecturers into the colleges.

“We ask that you urgently engage with the UCU and NASUWT to develop a plan to close the pay gap in education in Northern Ireland.

“There is a pressing need to move beyond aspirational statements to commence the process of putting worthy words into implementable actions, the sector’s viability depends on it.”

A Department for the Economy spokesperson said: “The department continues to work with FE colleges to explore the options available to achieve a fair pay offer for FE lecturers”.