Further education lecturers to strike in Northern Ireland next week
Staff at all six Further Education (FE) colleges in Northern Ireland are set to strike for five days next week.
The University and College Union (UCU) said its members will take action from Monday, when courses are due to begin.
It added that the strike action will also continue over the next three months in its long-running dispute over pay and working conditions.
With the union representing the majority of around 1,700 FE lecturers, the strike action is expected to cause major disruption to college courses.
But the union said it has been "forced to take action after a decade of their members being subject to pay freeze, followed by pay restraint, which has seen lecturer pay awards limited to between one per cent and two per cent per year".
UCU said a full week of strike action will begin on Monday with each college then set to take one day of strike action once every six days for the next three months.
Employers have said that colleges are facing "significant budgetary pressures".
Lecturers recently received a £3,000 one-off pro-rata payment to help with rises in the cost of living.
UCU NI official Katharine Clarke said: "We have been forced into taking this action because neither the employers nor the Department for the Economy have taken reasonable steps to close the education pay gap.
"Year after year we have seen pay awards for corporate staff prioritised within college budgets that far exceed pay settlements for lecturers.
"Those engaged in curriculum delivery have been treated as a second-class workforce within the system.
"UCU's demand is simple, all staff in further education must be fairly rewarded for their work.
"There will be continuous disruption across the sector until those who hold the purse strings get real and start addressing lecturer pay in a meaningful way.
"Over the period where lecturer pay has declined, we've seen shiny new campuses pop up at most of the colleges.
"The sector needs to prioritise investment in its people not just its buildings.
"Bricks and mortar do not deliver curriculum.
"Lecturer pay is now so unattractive the further education sector is facing the very real prospect of having the best of classrooms but with nobody to teach in them."
The College Employers' Forum (CEF), which represents college management, said the action would "have a negative impact on our learners who have only commenced the 2023-24 academic year".
"CEF has worked hard to make the case for an uplift in staff pay but unfortunately this comes at a time when there is huge financial pressure right across the public sector and our sector has not escaped these pressures," it told the BBC.
"This year the six colleges took a reduction of almost £9m to our budgets for front-line further education and the colleges will face significant budgetary pressures into next year.
"We remain committed to working with trade unions to build a case for a pay award in 2023-24 that reflects the dedication and professionalism of our lecturers.
"We would urge the trade unions to reconsider this strike action.
"In the meantime, we will do our best to ensure that the needs of our learners are met during this strike period."
The Department for the Economy, which has responsibility for further education in the north, also said a one-off pay award was issued last month adding that it would encourage "FE colleges as employers to continue their engagement with unions to seek a resolution on ongoing pay issues".