More than 100 South Tyneside College workers have launched strike action today – after being left reeling by an annual pay-freeze they have branded a ‘kick in the teeth’.
Protesting staff are picketing outside the St George’s Avenue site this morning during the class action before staging a day-long walk-out.
The row was sparked after bosses at the college implemented the wage freeze – which covers a 12-month period from August of this year – on the back of a recommendation for a nationwide freeze for staff at further education colleges across the country.
About 150 angry workers – the bulk of whom are lecturers at the college – are taking part in the ‘last resort’ strike action.
The University and College Union (UCU), which represents the workforce at the college, says staff are angry that pay levels are standing still – while the general cost of living continues to rise.
The UCU had called for its members to be given a pay boost of £1 an hour.
Workers feel like they are being taken for granted.Jon Bryan, UCU officer
South Tyneside College says it recognises the rights of staff to take industrial action – and says the decision was taken after detailed discussions during the summer.
Jon Bryan, UCU Northern region support officer, said; “This is a pay freeze that comes at a time when the cost of living is still going up.
“People are still having difficulties due to that rise in costs.
“There are a number of other work sectors that are getting pay rises.
“Workers feel like they are being taken for granted.
“The fact that the employers’ representative has recommended there be a pay freeze, which has been implemented by South Tyneside College, is a real kick in the teeth.
UCU branch chairman Adam Peacock said: “There have been times when college staff have been offered low pay rises, which is annoying, but when we get offered nothing, it’s a real insult to the work that all of us undertake in further education institutions like South Tyneside College.
“I am sure that some will say that we are hurting the education of our students, but the real hurt comes from the continual cuts in funding for FE which impacts on the service and the courses that we are able to provide.”
“No one wants to strike, and it is always a last resort. It’s not like there is an offer on the table for us to consider. We are just told ‘no pay rise this year’.
“Well, UCU members are not accepting that we do nothing about it. This strike is evidence of the strength of that feeling.”
A South Tyneside College spokesperson said: “The UCU’s industrial action locally is based on the union’s national dispute with the Association of Colleges.
“It is the Association of Colleges that has recommended a pay freeze and South Tyneside College, like many colleges across the country, is following that recommendation.
“We have consulted closely with the UCU locally over the issue of funding challenges and this pay freeze was part of an agreement established this summer of which the UCU was in accordance.
“The union in South Tyneside was aware of the 0% offer from detailed discussions we held with it during the summer and which formed part of an overall package of terms that it agreed to.
“The UCU is also fully aware of the financial restrictions we are operating under. We do, of course, recognise the union members’ right to take industrial action.
“The college will be open for our students and many classes will be running as usual. Other facilities across campus will be open to our students to continue with their learning uninterrupted.”
Row going on for workers across the country
College workers across the country are staging strikes today in a row over pay.
Staff are angry that the employers’ representatives, the Association of Colleges, recommended a pay freeze, despite staff suffering a real-terms pay cut of 17.1% in the last five years.
Nearly three-quarters (74%) of UCU members who voted back strike action after the employers rejected the joint trade unions’ pay claim of £1 an hour extra for staff. Workers based in London will make their way to Westminster for a rally at the Emmanuel Centre at 1pm today, with speakers including shadow chancellor John McDonnell, shadow minister for further education Gordon Marsden and UCU general secretary Sally Hunt.
Ms Hunt said: “UCU members are sick of the employers’ refusal to deal with the real-terms pay cuts that have blighted the sector. For the Association of Colleges to recommend that all of their members freeze staff pay this year was a real insult.
“Members who voted gave a clear mandate for strike action.
“We hope the employers will now come back to the table.”