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College chiefs write to lecturers over pay dispute ahead of strike

The Colleges Scotland Employers’ Association has described a planned strike on Thursday as ‘deeply regrettable’.

College lecturers are to strike on Thursday (Tom Eden/PA)
College lecturers are to strike on Thursday (Tom Eden/PA)

College chiefs have written directly to lecturers urging them to reconsider  further strike action in a dispute over pay.

Members of the Educational Institute of Scotland – Further Education Lecturers’ Association (EIS-FELA) are demanding what they say is a fair cost of living increase, in line with public sector pay policy.

EIS-FELA said it has rejected what it says is a 2% increase offer over three years, and accused employers’ association Colleges Scotland of seeking to tear-up existing commitments on lecturers’ working conditions.

Members are due to walk out on Thursday for the fourth time this year.

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College lecturers have walked out on strike three times this year (Tom Eden/PA)

In a letter to lecturers, the Colleges Scotland Employers’ Association urges them to consider whether the “endless cycle of strikes” is in their best interests, or the interests of students or the college sector.

It said it has tabled eight offers trying to reach agreement in the 2017-20 pay dispute, and that the combined national average pay rise for lecturers over three years from harmonisation and the current pay offer is more than £5,000.

The eighth offer on the table is an £800 unconsolidated payment for years one and two with public sector pay policy in year three, applied as 3% for salaries up to £36,500 and 2% for salaries above £36,500, it said.

The letter states: “It is deeply regrettable that your EIS-FELA representatives have continually indicated to us that they will not reflect on nor consider the wider implications of strike action and the swingeing cuts to services and jobs that would be required to fund an even bigger increase for lecturers’ pay than is currently on the table.

“Any additional pay offer from colleges – what the EIS-FELA calls cost-of-living pay – is not coming from a funding allocation or budget, as you may have thought, but rather from cuts colleges must make.

“Our seventh offer already equates to cuts of £10.1 million, which a number of colleges have already informed us will be challenging for them and will lead to job losses and cuts to services. Colleges also have to find three per cent annual efficiency savings like other public bodies.

“If agreement is reached on the additional, eighth offer, then deeper cuts will have to be applied.”

Alex Linkston, chair of Colleges Scotland Employers’ Association, said they are also “gravely concerned” that EIS-FELA is committed to withholding assessment results if they receive a mandate for action short of strike action from their members.

He said this would “severely affect students” in the sector as without external verification by awarding bodies, they would be unable to achieve their qualifications.

Mr Linkston said: “Lecturers in Scotland are by far the best paid in the UK, and the pay harmonisation rises from 2017 to 2020, combined with the current pay offer on the table from colleges, equates to a national average increase of over £5,000, but the EIS-FELA has rejected this and refuses to make any concessions or compromises at all.

“We are urging lecturers to make it clear to the EIS-FELA that it is finally time for them to engage meaningfully and actually negotiate.”

Larry Flanagan, EIS General Secretary, said it was a “disingenuous statement from Colleges Scotland, which continues to conflate harmonized equal pay with a cost of living pay rise”.

He added: “It also inaccurately portrays the steps the EIS has taken to keep its members fully informed throughout the dispute as well as the content of these communications.

“It is a blatant attempt by Colleges Scotland to bypass the proper collective bargaining process with trade unions via the National Joint Negotiating Committee.

“This is a clear breach of the Fair Work Convention and the latest example of unacceptable behaviour by a management body that is clearly unwilling to negotiate in good faith towards a fair pay settlement for college lecturers.”

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