'˜Reality is, education is delivered by a team of people '“ not just lecturers'

I was disappointed to read Shona Struthers (CEO Colleges Scotland) letter in Friday's Scotsman.

She said college support staff demands ‘do not bear 
comparison with reality’. The reality is, education is delivered by a team of people – not just lecturers. So for college bosses to award lecturing staff a £450 rise, while some college support staff were only offered £230 is a kick in the teeth to hardworking staff. We work for the same colleges, help deliver the same 
courses, support the same students and deserve the same cost of living increase. Our ask is simple and fair, we are only looking for parity.

There are already huge pay and conditions discrepancies and unfairness across Scotland’s 26 colleges – different rates of pay for the same job, different holidays and more. The last thing we need is a two-tier system to develop on top of this.

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College support staff – janitors, receptionists, classroom assistants, technicians, 
librarians and others – work hard to support students and the last thing we want to do is take strike action as we understand the huge disruption this would cause to students across the country. All we want is to be treated fairly and with respect for the essential services we deliver to Scotland’s students.

Chris Greenshields

chair of UNISON’s further education committee

In the context of a failure of negotiations and a pending strike, Shona Struthers CEO Colleges Scotland (18 August) needs to desist making misleading statements, internal and external to the further education (FE) employers’ machinery, which are wrong, damaging to a settlement and anti-trade union. For the record:

1 UNISON members are being forced into strike action by the inconsistent and 
unjust negotiating positions adopted by FE employers - £850 over two years for teaching staff; £630 for the majority of support staff (£800 for some).

2 None of the FE unions EIS, UNISON, GMB, UNITE have been offered in 2015 or 2016 any percentage offer. This would have been rejected out of hand as all made flat rate claims, so as pay differentials across the 26 colleges would not be worsened.

3 All staff in FE covered by the NJNC got £300 nationally agreed in 2015.

4 The cost between the current (rejected) offer and £450 for all is less than £500k, £25k per relevant college. Colleges Scotland are currently spending £300k, Government money (tax), to resource its negotiating team with new signings.

5 UNISON’s mandate for strike action is legal, robust and morally justified.

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6 2015 agreements on leave and hours of work for support staff in some colleges did not cost the college sector one penny. It was a good start towards harmonisation in 2015.

7 There has never been a differential pay settlement in the history of local or infant national collective bargaining. The current position of the employers creates a three tier pay offer across teaching and support staff. Not to mention the 3.5% for 2015\6 given to middle managers in Edinburgh College and the £35k bonus pot to five executives in city of Glasgow.

8 FE employers should stop shroud waving and pay the £450 this week to support staff. They are not the second or third class citizens of the sector. They are public sector workers of equal status to college principals.

9 Let’s get on with the task of creating a unitary pay and grading model across the 26 which is equality proof; and a single set of employment conditions for all FE staff from principals to janitors.

10 We were tasked to do this by Scottish Ministers three years ago and FE employers have not been up to the task.

11 Shirley- Ann Somerville (Minister for FE, HE and Science) should not let a dispute, easily fixed, blight the start of the college year. UNISON members support the sector and its students every day. Damage to the sector and its reputation has been caused, not by trade unions seeking fair pay for its members, but a sector with a history of bad governance, bad management, bad privatisation of services and ill planned financial cuts. Yet a sector which still has tens of millions of pounds in secret ‘trusts’ which could easily fund modernisation of the workforce and 
service delivery to the benefit of the quarter(25%) of students who are forced to drop out.

In this context UNISON thinks public and student sympathy will be with ordinary paid janitors, receptionists, classroom assistants, technicians, librarians and others who only seek the same as colleges could already afford to pay out to the larger, more costly lecturing group in May 2016.

John Gallacher

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UNISON Scottish Organiser