Unison members at the City of Liverpool College recently voted to go out on strike in a fight for a decent pay rise.
The postal ballot returned a clear majority for action, with 80% voting in favour on a 65% turnout.
This vote took place after support staff members in the college twice rejected management’s pay offer, by 89% and 80% respectively.
These workers are in roles such as technicians, admin officers, nursery workers, and learning support – all vital for the college to function.
The college’s pay offer was one of the worst in the public sector, at only 3%. Even a proposed extra increment for a few of those on the lowest grade would only bump it up to 5.8%.
At the bottom of the grading structure, a couple of points were deleted giving an apparently bigger pay rise. But these members would also lose out when they moved on to the higher points.
In reality, these rises work out at an extra £10 a week take home pay for those on £25,000. Added to this is a one-off payment, taking the total increase to £1,500.
In meetings, members described the offer as in effect being two pay cuts. Firstly, £1,500 does not come near the 12.3% inflation on the pay settlement date of August 2022. And then we would effectively suffer another pay cut down to 3% in the next year.
The college principal has told us that the reason for this appalling offer is that the college budget has been cut.
This is true. Further education (FE) has seen swingeing cuts due to austerity. However, workers at the college are sick of being the ones who are expected to pay for this year after year.
Our pay grades have lost 23% of their value since 2011, as pay was frozen between 2014-18. In addition, increasingly, more tasks are being shouldered by staff on lower grades and pay.
The union has been told that long-term college staff are actually too well paid, and that if they were benchmarked across FE in the North West then their pay would be cut!
We find this hard to stomach, coming from a management led by a principal and CEO on £179,000 per year.
Workers at the college are therefore taking action to stop any further erosion of their pay.
The first strike days are set to be during enrolment in August. Members will then discuss how we advance the strike.
In staff room discussions, several members have already told stewards that we need properly effective action – that is, more than going out for just one day.
The potential for longer strike action has been aided in Unison by the increase in strike pay, passed by the left-wing Time for Real Change NEC, which is now at £50 from day one.
Currently, the answer to Tory cuts from FE bosses in the Association of Colleges is to simply lobby MPs as part of their ‘Love Our Colleges’ campaign.
But the Tories have shown, as with the recent public sector disputes, that they only respond when real action takes place, not cosy meetings.
That is why the commitment of the UCU to ballot in 88 colleges if their pay demands are not met is to be welcomed.
Unions representing support staff now need to do the same, and take action on pay nationally, just as we are in Liverpool.
All workers in education transform and enrich the lives of students – not just teachers, but also support staff. This must therefore become a wider struggle, if we are to achieve lasting change.
Ultimately, under capitalism, FE will never really be valued. The bosses and their political representatives only see colleges as institutions for training workers to be exploited.
The fight for a decent pay rise for all college workers must therefore be part of the fight for a quality, fully-funded socialist education system – one properly fit to serve students and staff alike.