A decision for college staff across Scotland to strike in protest over pay “is disappointing”, a director of a body representing institutions across the country has said, as he claimed there just was not enough money to meet union demands.
Many college classes north of the border have been cancelled on Wednesday after members of the Educational Institute of Scotland Further Education Lecturers’ Association (EIS-FELA) backed strike action their battle for higher pay.
Gavin Donoghue, director of College Employers Scotland, said: “It is disappointing that the EIS-FELA has decided to strike despite being made an increased offer at negotiations two weeks ago.”
The director warned staff set to strike in the following weeks as part of the industrial action, which was agreed at the start of the month, that the walkout would not achieve anything.
“Colleges are already in deficit by £5.7m and the sector is facing a real-terms cut in funding of £51.9m this autumn,” he said.
“Strike action will not result in an increased offer, there simply isn’t any more funding that colleges can put forward.”
Students are set to face disruption from the strikes in the run up to their exams, and Mr Donoghue told them “colleges are taking steps to ensure disruption is minimal and that every measure will be taken to support them during this incredibly important time in their lives”.
As part of the pay dispute, the union is planning on 14 days of discontinuous strike action in April and May.
During a ballot of EIS-FELA, more than 70% of its members backed strike action and 80% backed action short of strike.
When it announced the ballot results earlier this month, the union said it would take part in further negotiations with colleges and Larry Flanagan, its general secretary, said that “words of gratitude, and a pay offer that does not begin to address the pressures on the cost of living, are not enough”.
College Employers Scotland said its original offer included a £150 one-off payment, along with a £850 consolidated payment in recognition of the work done throughout the pandemic “was a higher pay offer than that already made to and accepted by teachers, civil servants, police (and the) fire service”.
Donoghue said: “This pay offer would ensure Scotland’s lecturers remain by far the best paid in the United Kingdom and continue enjoy the best terms and conditions in the four nations.
“In a final attempt to avert industrial action, College Employers Scotland offered an additional £50 to the one-off payment to stop strike action going ahead, which was rejected.
“Our offer is in fact beyond what colleges can afford, we have pushed our resources to the maximum because we value the work that lecturers do and wish to avoid further disruption to our students.”
Donoghue said the College Employers Scotland door was open if the unions negotiators “wish to meet to discuss any practical, deliverable and affordable plans to end this disruptive and unnecessary dispute”.
College Employers Scotland represents employers’ views on national pay, terms and conditions for college staff.
In Scotland, the sector employs more than 11,000 staff in wide ranging rolls and delivers education, skills and training to around 240,000 students.