College students face disruption as staff back strike action in pay dispute

Members of the University and College Union voted for strike action (PA)
Members of the University and College Union voted for strike action (PA)

College students in England could face strike disruption after staff voted in favour of action in a dispute over pay.

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) at 32 further education colleges in England have voted to back strike action over their pay and working conditions.

Walkouts could be called as early as next month if employers refuse to make realistic pay offers, the UCU warned.

The union is demanding a pay offer in excess of RPI inflation, a national workload agreement and a commitment to binding national pay negotiations.

Last month, the Association of Colleges (AoC) recommended that colleges should “aim” to increase staff pay by 6.5% for the 2023/24 academic year.

But the UCU said colleges do not have to follow the advice and many failed to do so in previous pay rounds.

The union’s further education committee will meet within two weeks to decide the next steps.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “Our members have emphatically voted to strike over the low pay and high workloads that plague further education.

“Good quality education cannot be built upon the backs of staff who cannot afford to heat and eat.

“The 6.5% pay recommendation by the AoC is a good start but we fear many employers will simply ignore it as they’ve done in the past.

“Where employers can pay more, they should, the money is there. If college bosses want to avoid disruption, they need to offer realistic pay awards, address workloads, and make a commitment to binding national bargaining.”

Last month, the UCU opened the strike ballot for 89 colleges in England over pay and working conditions.

Ballots were held locally and the UCU passed the 50% ballot turnout required by law at 32 colleges but it did not reach the threshold at 43 colleges.

UCU members at a further 13 colleges have voted to settle their disputes after receiving pay offers of up to 8.5%, the union said.

Dr Grady added: “Where colleges do the right thing, we are willing to work with them to avoid any disruption.

“But if intransigent employers choose to prioritise their own salaries and vanity projects over rewarding the staff who teach and support students, we will respond with strike action. The ball is now in the employers’ court.”