Chichester College Group union votes to strike - including staff at Crawley College and Brinsbury College

Chichester College Group staff have voted overwhelmingly for strike actions, affecting campuses in Chichester, Crawley and Pulborough.

Chichester College
Chichester College

Chichester College Group staff will now join others at 33 colleges across England in a growing wave of industrial action sweeping the country, and across a number of sectors within the economy.

The University and College Union (UCU) is demanding the colleges increase pay to meet the cost of living crisis.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: "Today, college staff have shown that they are sick of falling pay and have voted overwhelmingly for strike action after employers made a pay offer of just 2.5 per cent.

“College workers have had their pay held down so long that the vast majority now face financial insecurity whilst the sector experiences a recruitment and retention crisis. Yet as the cost of living crisis bites employers want their staff to take a further hit with more below inflation pay rises. This is completely unacceptable.

“After receiving increased funding from government, colleges now have the money to begin properly paying their staff - and they must do so to avoid disruption when the new academic year begins in September.”

Employer body the Association of Colleges (AoC) had recommended a pay rise of just 2.5 per cent despite RPI inflation hitting 11.7 per cent.

Staff pay has now fallen 35 per cent behind inflation since 2009 after a series of below inflation pay offers, the union has said.

In pay scales drawn up by the AoC, unqualified teachers can earn as little as £21,000 with qualified teachers starting on less than £26,000. Meanwhile, some college bosses earn over £200,000.

This month a UCU report showed that the vast majority of college staff are financially insecure, impacting the mental health of more than eight in 10 with many being forced to skip meals and restrict hot water use to save money. Seven in 10 said they would leave the sector unless pay and working conditions improve.

The Department for Education (DfE) has announced £1.6bn in extra funding for further education and UCU estimates that colleges already have an additional £400m that is available to spend on staff compared with 2019-20.

Strike action at a number of colleges has been called off after employers made improved pay offers of up to 9 per cent.

A Chichester College Group (CCG) spokesman said: "We are aware of the outcome of the recent UCU members ballot to move towards industrial action, in relation to pay. We have not as yet been notified of any potential date for industrial action.

"As a Group, we have worked hard to maintain a healthy budget, and - as a result - earlier this month we were able to inform our staff that we would be awarding a 3% pay increase from 1 August. This is above the recommended pay award put forward nationally by the Association of Colleges, although we know inflation continues to soar."That's why our Governing Body has approved, in principle, non-consolidated lump sum payments which will be made in October in addition to the 3% pay increase to certain groups of staff in recognition of the additional pressures caused by the cost-of-living crisis. This equates to a weighted average pay increase of 5.3%, and for some staff it will equate to 7% increase.

"We hope this will go some way to helping with the additional rise in energy bills, which is expected in the autumn."The senior management team have all voted to forego a pay increase, instead the money saved will create a hardship fund for those in need of additional assistance.

"We are, collectively, experiencing exceptionally challenging times, and we continue to experience significant pressures in our sector in relation to rising costs and energy bills, increased National Insurance contributions as well as a range of other inflationary pressures. The further education sector, as a whole, has faced enormous challenges in funding and under investment for a number of years.

"The 3% pay increase will add an additional £1.8million to CCG's wage bill alone, but we recognise our staff are our biggest asset and we want to support them as best we can during these difficult times.

"We also have a responsibility to our students to ensure we can deliver the best education to them that we can, and we'll be working collaboratively to minimise any possible disruption to their learning, should industrial action take place in September. As soon as we have been advised of dates, we will communicate this with students and parents.

"We work with a number of trade unions across the College Group and we understand that only a small number of our staff voted in favour of strike action in the UCU ballot, which opened around three weeks before our Governing Body awarded the pay increase."