College support staff across Scotland will walk out for a second time this month in an increasingly bitter pay row in the troubled further education sector.
UNISON Scotland and GMB announced on Tuesday a further series of strike days in a bid for fair pay. The move follows strike action taken by UNISON’s further education members earlier this month and is the second national strike within a year of the new National Bargaining arrangements being set up.
Some 2500 support staff from UNISON and GMB – including classroom assistants, estates staff, key finance staff, librarians, catering staff, cleaning staff and others – will go on strike on Tuesday, September 27. A further two consecutive days are planned for October as the autumn terms in Scottish colleges is beset by closed campuses, cancelled classes and a chaotic student experience.
The row centres on the pay rise for 2016, as college bosses awarded lecturing staff a flat rate rise of £450, while most low-paid support staff were offered £230.
A college additional needs assistant and UNISON member, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “I cannot believe my employers are forcing me to withdraw my labour yet again and have not treated me the same as the lecturers with whom I work in the same classrooms. Is my role seen as second-class by college management? As an ANA, I work with young learners who have a learning difficulty. This can involve intimate personal care as well as drug delivery, for example for diabetes. The learning difficulties cover a wide spectrum of disorders due to autism, Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy and many others. Am I not worth a pay rise of £450, the same as a college lecturer?”
Chris Greenshields, chair of UNISON Scotland’s Further Education committee, said: “Striking is a last resort and we’re disappointed the employers have not listened to our calls for fair and equal treatment. In 2015, every single support worker and every single lecturer received £400 as a pay rise. The employers agreed an ‘equality clause’. What is different in 2016? Why should one portion of staff get £450, another £400 and yet another £230? It is a divisive negotiating strategy and UNISON will only accept fairness and justice for all.”
John Gallacher, UNISON Regional Organiser added: “UNISON has information that one college principal in Glasgow has seen his extremely high annual salary be supplemented by pay rises of more than £10,000 in the last calendar year. Yet, he has stated publicly that there is no money in the sector to increase the current unfair and unequal offer to support staff. It’s no wonder our members feel it is one rule for them and another for us. Our members are fighting for parity of esteem and a fair and reasonable pay rise.”
Cal Waterson, full-time official of the GMB, said: “Our ballot result was the most emphatic I have ever seen. I have never known such anger among our members who see the complete unfairness in the way they are being treated in these pay negotiations and the hypocrisy of the employers. Many of our members are being offered less than 1 per cent while managers receive four-figure pay rises and five-figure annual contributions to their pension pots.”