Northern Ireland

Further Education redundancies: Staff at six colleges urge Conor Murphy to stop redundancy scheme

FE workers at the Metropolitan College Millfield campus, who began a week-long strike action on Monday. Picture by Mal McCann
FE workers took part in several days of strike action last year. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN

Unions representing staff at Further Education colleges in Northern Ireland have issued an open letter to the new Stormont economy minister urging him to stop the redundancy scheme currently being rolled out.

The unions describe the current scheme as “misguided” and call on Conor Murphy to “immediately withdraw authority” for the financing of it.

The letter, signed on behalf of members of University and College Union (UCU), NIPSA, NASUWT, Unite and GMB, also urges the Sinn Féin minister to “redirect the monies to assisting settlements of outstanding pay claims”.

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

The FE colleges said a voluntary severance scheme would be initiated.

However, the UCU claimed the redundancy notices were not legislatively compliant.

In the letter to Mr Murphy published on Monday, Katharine Clarke of the UCU said they are “issuing a public plea for you to stop the misguided redundancy scheme”.

“The department for which you now have ministerial responsibility, is directing colleges to axe more than 300 jobs from the sector,” she said.

“In so doing, comparisons are being drawn between enrolment figures in 2018/19 to 21/22.

“The true picture shows there has been an increase in student recruitment from 21/22 to 22/23, with that trend continuing this academic year.

“The reality is the department has not given the colleges sufficient opportunity to recover from the impact of the pandemic before it has instructed widespread cost-cutting.”

Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy arrives for the first sitting of the assembly at Stormont on Tuesday.
The unions have issued an open letter to Stormont Economy minister Conor Murphy. PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN

Ms Clarke added: “Without a substantial pay increase it will be impossible for colleges to attract and retain the experienced staff essential to aid economic recovery.

“Colleges simply cannot continue to be outbid for staff by the rest of the education sector when their role is crucial to labour supply and stimulating growth.

“For the DfE to prioritise financing redundancies above properly resourcing the sector and those who work in it is, in our view, grotesque, and a misuse of public money.”

Mr Murphy said he had met representatives of the UCU and NASUWT unions on Monday and was “very keen to ensure FE staff get a pay uplift as soon as possible”.

He said the meeting was “constructive” and he recognised FE staff have “faced real challenges over the past two years, but have continued to deliver high quality teaching and learning opportunities to their students”.

“Some issues remain to be worked through and resolved between the college employers and the unions, and we are also operating within a difficult financial context,” he said.

“But I hope that we will soon be in a position to deliver a pay award.

“We also discussed the staff exit scheme. I am currently taking advice on the options available to me for the future of the scheme.”

Yesterday Jo Grady, UCU General Secretary was in Parliament defending UCU members and standing up for our sector. Staff and students are clear that higher education is not being run in our interests. Watch, share and make sure every vice-chancellor sees this 👇

Posted by UCU - University and College Union on Wednesday, 7 February 2024