Trade unions must give Scotland's college staff 'a say on pay' - Gavin Donoghue

Unions urged to take ‘pragmatic approach’ amid financial challenges facing colleges

Scotland’s colleges are committed to fair employment, including paying staff a fair wage. They know that attracting and retaining staff is vital to providing high-quality education and training.

Unfortunately, while the 2022/23 academic year has now ended, a pay dispute between colleges and trade unions rumbles on. This has left students facing uncertainty due to a resulting boycott by the lecturers’ union, EIS-FELA.

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And because the full and final employers’ pay offer has not been taken to ballot by most trade unions, college staff have been unable to access a pay award this year.

Gavin Donoghue, director of College Employers ScotlandGavin Donoghue, director of College Employers Scotland
Gavin Donoghue, director of College Employers Scotland

College Employers Scotland (CES) has been determined to resolve the dispute as quickly as possible. College leaders want to see staff benefit from pay rises at the earliest opportunity.

CES has, therefore, been pro-active and flexible throughout pay talks: moving from a one-year to a two-year deal, and more than doubling our initial pay proposal, to a full and final offer of £3,500 over 2022/23 and 2023/24.

However, as things stand, the EIS-FELA and two of the support staff unions – UNISON and Unite – have yet to give their members a chance to formally vote on the employers’ pay offer.

Even though, if accepted, CES’s proposal would deliver an average pay rise of 8 per cent for lecturers and 11 per cent for support staff over the two academic years. A pragmatic approach from trade unions is vital given the challenging financial position colleges find themselves in.

Colleges were given just £9.6 million in 2022/23 to fund pay and other cost pressures while the cost of delivering the proposed £3,500 pay rise is £51m.

College leaders acknowledge that employers elsewhere in the public sector have been able to make better staff pay awards. However, trade unions must remember these pay offers were only possible because of Scottish Government intervention.

In fact, ministers withdrew a promised £26m for colleges to help fund the teachers’ pay settlement. Sadly, the Scottish Government has confirmed there is no additional money for college pay deals. And if the Government will not step in, employers and trade unions need to come together to find solutions.

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Students should not be made to suffer because of circumstances beyond their control, and industrial action that disrupts learning and targets student progression is in no one’s interests. CES continues to urge trade unions to give their members a say on pay.

- Gavin Donoghue is the director of College Employers Scotland



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