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College support staff called to vote for strike action over pay – union

UNISON Scotland notified college principals of its intention to ballot for industrial action (PA)
UNISON Scotland notified college principals of its intention to ballot for industrial action (PA)

College staff in Scotland have been urged to vote yes to take industrial action over pay amid a cost-of-living crisis, a union has said.

UNISON Scotland, the largest trade union for support staff in further education, said 92% of its members who work in colleges have rejected a pay rise offer their employers made in a recent consultation.

In response, the union called on its members to “vote yes to strike” and notified college principals of its intention to ballot for industrial action, which will open on Wednesday 27 April.

The union said employers’ final offer was an increase of £850 to staff salaries, with a £150 one-off payment.

With inflation reaching a 30-year high, the group said this offer would “constitute a significant real-terms pay cut.”

Members are calling on college employers to come up with a “fair offer” that “recognises the severity of the cost-of-living crisis their workforce is facing”.

Lorcan Mullen, UNISON Scotland’s head of further education, said it comes as no surprise that members are endorsing an industrial action ballot in protest with inflation reaching record levels.

He said: “The cost-of-living crisis will have to be addressed with higher wages, especially for the lowest paid, and if the employers are not willing to offer that protection through negotiation, strikes will follow.

“We urge UNISON members to return their ballot as soon as they get it, and to vote yes to strike action.”

If members vote to proceed, and employers do not offer a further pay rise, UNISON said “all grades of staff in Scotland’s colleges will take industrial action across Scotland’s colleges before the end of this term” in what they said will be the first national strike vote in further education for six years.

Teaching staff represented by EIS-FELA are also said to have begun strike action on pay this week.

Collette Bradley, of UNISON Scotland, said: “The final pay offer for college staff fails to protect the most vulnerable from the ravages of inflation and rising costs.

“Nor does it compensate them for efforts throughout the pandemic to keep colleges operational, whether that be in the form of opening and cleaning buildings or turning their homes into workplaces.

“There has been no compensation paid to homeworkers to date.”

The union said talks, during which there has been “little progress” so far, will continue on Friday.

Chris Greenshields, also of UNISON Scotland, described the employers’ approach as “staggering.”

“All unions in the college sector are now in dispute on pay,” he said.

“Staff deserved a pay rise to meet inflation by September 2021 and the employers are now seven months late.”

He added: “This is immensely frustrating and questions the employers’ desire to resolve this dispute.

“Our members need a proper pay rise now. Support staff in colleges are struggling with record rising cost of living and the least they should expect is some more urgency from the employers to address this.”

Gavin Donoghue, director of College Employers Scotland, said: “It is disappointing that the support side trade unions have rejected a good pay offer.

“Our offer gives clear recognition of the outstanding work carried out by college staff throughout the pandemic.

“Our offer totals £1,000 – a consolidated award of £850 on all salary points, effective from 1st September 2021, and a £150 payment in recognition of the support staff efforts during the pandemic.

“College employers have gone as far as we can in the current dire financial climate with the funds we have available from Scottish Government.

“We are hopeful that support side trade unions come back to the table to accept what is a very good offer.”