FE support staff in colleges across Scotland, organised in Unison and the GMB, have won their demand for a £450 pay rise and parity with the increase won by college lecturers earlier in 2016. This great result shows that strike action delivers. The offer will be discussed at members meetings and at the FE sector committee this coming week.
Martin Clark, Unison steward at Glasgow City College and Unison FE Sector Committee, spoke to the Socialist
“Unison members in FE stood strong and resolute, despite being backed into a corner and forced into industrial action which caused hardship for our members.
Despite this adversity, we had well attended picket lines on the strike days and a successful demonstration at the opening of the new college campus where education Minister John Swinney was reminded of our demand for fair pay.
This dispute in the end was not about money, it was about equality, parity and fairness. Support Staff were being discriminated against. We argued that in the history of local bargaining never have the lecturing staff and support staff received different pay awards. Why start now? National Bargaining is supposed to be designed to harmonise pay and conditions in colleges throughout Scotland.
To give the lecturers a £450 flat rate, then offer only £230 to support staff, goes against everything national bargaining stands for. From March right through to summer, Colleges Scotland did not move. We said we would meet with them any time, any place over the summer. Summer came and went.
The employers moved only by offering staff below £22,000 a £400 increase. This offer being made via email, I may add. The offer to those under £22,000 only muddied the waters even more. We balloted our members and they rejected the offer, of course, and gave a mandate for industrial action. Our strike days along with action short of strike, in the form of postponing voluntary duties such as First Aid, Fire Marshal and Evacuation cover, struck a cord. In October, we were invited to conciliation talks through Acas with the employers. The talks were a waste of time. It only served the purpose of the employers in muddying things even more by offering a 1.5% increase to those above £22,000.
We urged our members to write to their MSPs to get the Scottish Government to intervene. The Scottish Government asked the employers to get back round the table, they refused. We had a duty to ballot our members on the new offer of 1.5%. The members came back with an 89% rejection. Surely the employers could not ignore that? Nor could the SNP Scottish Government!
We were prepared to take two days of further action if the employers failed to move on the offer. Finally, on the 8th December, the employers caved in. Justice was done. Equality had been restored and a way forward in National Bargaining looks a better prospect now than it did back in March. Thanks to all who supported us during the dispute, including Socialist Party Scotland and Socialist Students.”
This result, won by a fighting nationally coordinated strike action, has lessons for other public sector workers and trade unions fighting low pay and pay freezes.