A deal has been reached in the Scottish further education lecturers’ campaign for pay rises, after months of negotiations and several days of strike action. The EIS Further Education Lecturers’ Association (EIS-FELA) recommended for its members to accept the latest offer from Colleges Scotland, the organisation representing Scottish colleges in the dispute. Results from the ballot show that 88% of members accepted the offer.
By Rebecca Cornwell, Glasgow Marxists
Lecturers have been striking over cost-of-living pay, which has not increased since April 2016. This is the third instance of strike action in as many years. The union argued for such pay rises to match the level of college support staff and other workers within the sector. Colleges Scotland are unwilling to offer higher pay because they claim that many lecturers have already received considerable pay rises as a result of a 2017 agreement, and that some are still set to receive more as the final stages of this process concludes this year. However, these increases are not at all linked to cost-of-living and colleges are using this to avoid having to spend money on paying their employees fairly. The previous pay rises were agreed in order to balance out the salaries of all lecturers across the country, which previously varied substantially as they were decided institution by institution. This means that some lecturers have been seeing significant pay increases recently, but again, this was simply to even their salaries out with those of fellow employees in the profession. On the other hand, the wages of other lecturers have stagnated over the past three years in the face of rising living costs.
Apart from their refusal to differentiate between the pay standardisation and cost-of-living increases, Colleges Scotland claimed that increasing wages would put a strain on the sector that would lead to fewer jobs, courses and students at Scottish institutions. Throughout the dispute, Colleges Scotland have spoken out about their disappointment in the events as they unfolded. They have pointed out the disruptiveness of the strikes, especially to the students, in order to seem sympathetic and to undermine the validity of the lecturers. But all along it was they themselves who had been halting negotiations and preventing further movement.
The EIS had attempted to enter negotiations with Colleges Scotland in December, ahead of planned strike action in January, but the talks did not occur until after the first of four planned 24-hour strikes. Members rejected one deal after a vote in February, as it was much worse than the original offer of a consolidated 2.5% rise made in April 2018. Talks broke down after this, with one meeting lasting only three minutes as college representatives simply delivered a prepared statement and refused any further talks. This resulted in suggestions of escalated action from the EIS, of boycotting other work activities, like not uploading student course results from college IT systems (but not kept from students themselves). In May, one strike-day was called off ahead of further talks, but strikes continued the next week as no serious solution was proposed. It took until the end of May to reach a deal, and although the EIS recommends members to accept it, it still fails to reach the union’s original demands. They had originally asked for a deal similar to that of college support staff, a deal which had cost Colleges Scotland £14 million. Results of the ballot were released on the 10th of June and revealed that after a 66% turnout, 88% of members voted to accept the pay deal as recommended by the union.
Further education lecturers have our support in their continued struggles for fair pay and working conditions. They have taken action to get what they deserve as educators, an undervalued and extremely demanding job. They have shown just how much power workers hold and how to use this power to achieve their demands and have provided inspiration for others experiencing the impacts of rising living costs,austerity and of an incompetent government, not only in Scotland but further afield. Their problems are echoed in New Zealand as over 50,000 teachers walked out this May over pay issues, and in the American teachers’ strikes originating in West Virginia in 2018. Teachers worldwide are being underpaid and overworked. We argue for a future where all workers are paid fairly, which can only be possible by adopting a clear, socialist position.