'We are not greedy': Striking college lecturers offer show of force outside Holyrood

Union holds firm on demands, despite John Swinney’s claim that their terms are “not reasonable”

  • College lecturers have formed picket lines across Scotland today, after the EIS union voted by 90 per cent in favour of a strike in December
  • The union has argued that the Scottish Government’s pay offer does not account for an increase in the cost of living over the past two years
  • Education Secretary John Swinney said has argued that a prior rise to establish equal pay – known as ‘harmonisation’ – should be taken into account

STRIKING college lecturers from across Scotland were today [16 January] joined by trade union activists, students and sympathetic politicians in a rally outside the Scottish Parliament, in a show of force demonstrating the strength of their resolve in their current industrial action.

Throughout the country, lecturers joined picket lines this morning, following the rejection of a pay offer, which Colleges Scotland claimed would have the average salary of college lecturers in Scotland from £36,125 in April, 2016 to £40,522 in April of this year.

However, the Education Institute of Scotland (EIS) trade union has responded to this by accusing management of “using conflated figures to obfuscate the pay claim”, and are demanding a pay rise which accounts for cost of living increases.

The decision to engage in today’s strike action was carried by 90 per cent, with a turnout of 52 per cent of EIS members.

At a raucous national demonstration held outside Holyrood attended by Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, Labour MSPs Monica Lennon and Kezia Dugdale, and Green education spokesperson and MSP Ross Greer, EIS-FELA president Pam Currie told a cheering crowd: “Today’s strike could have been avoided. They [Colleges Scotland] refused to meet with us.

“We are not greedy; we are not unreasonable. We are not looking for Caribbean islands and unicorns.”

The union’s demands are based on “public sector pay policy,” said Currie. “[That’s] what the [Scottish] government says everyone in the public sector should get. Our claim is based on what support staff have already been offered, and have accepted. What’s unreasonable is management’s refusal to negotiate.”

Also speaking was NUS Scotland president Liam McCabe, who said: “Just as EIS members have stood with students, as we campaign for better mental health services and improved student support, NUS Scotland stands with you now, and with those on the picket lines the length and breadth of this country.

“All of this is connected, and is part of our shared struggle for a better, fairer education system – one which prioritises the needs of staff and students, the real lifeblood of education in Scotland, and the heart and soul of our colleges. Let no one ever forget that.”

 READ MORE: Pam Currie: We fought and won equal pay - now we won't accept being devalued

Speaking at an evidence session at the Scottish Parliament’s education committee earlier that day, Education Secretary John Swinney said: "I think a reasonable objective is to secure a cost of living increase that is affordable within the sector and I don't think it is reasonable to discount the effect of pay harmonisation in the process.

"The college sector finds itself in a positionof being able to harmonise the contracts of further education lecturers across the country, which I'm very pleased the Government has been able to secure as a policy objective.

"In addition to that, college employers are able to make cost-of-living increases available to members of staff. I don't think it's defensible to separate harmonisation and cost-of-living as two separate things."

However, Swinney’s argument was disputed by EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan, who told press that the harmonisation increase merely addressed the fact that staff have been underpaid for decades.

Flanagan continued: "For a significant number of lecturers at the top end of previous scales equal pay has not produced any increase for the past two years.

READ MORE: EIS confident of an ‘overwhelming rejection’ of final pay offer by members

"A failure to maintain the value of the equal pay deal begins an immediate slide into the devaluing of that agreement which is something which should be unacceptable to all parties, including Scottish Government.”

In response to the strike, Colleges Scotland chief executive Shona Struthers commented: "It is extremely disappointing that the union is taking disruptive strike action for the third time in four years, especially when the colleges' pay offer, combined with salary rises from the 'same pay' settlement, would see lecturers' national average pay increase over three years by 12.2 per cent, which is a cash increase of over £5,083.

"This offer on the table is the best overall pay rise for public-sector workers anywhere in the UK but the EIS wants even more. They also want more pay for cost of living, but a pay rise is a pay rise, irrespective of whether it comes from the 'same pay' agreement or the additional cost-of-living offer."

“Having won that battle for national bargaining, and thus ensuring that all of Scotland's lecturers are treated equally, college staff are now having to fight to ensure that cost of living increases - both in practice and as a principle - aren't now abandoned.” Journalist and lecturer James McEnaney

Speaking to CommonSpace, the journalist and lecturer James McEnaney, who joined today’s strike action, argued: “Pay harmonisation and equality across the profession was an SNP policy, even if they only finally agreed to implement it to avoid further embarrassment during the most recent election campaign.

“As a result, some lecturers have seen a significant pay rise in the last few years, but that is in the contact of them having been disgracefully underpaid for years as part of what was a horribly fragmented FE system.

“Having won that battle for national bargaining, and thus ensuring that all of Scotland's lecturers are treated equally, college staff are now having to fight to ensure that cost of living increases - both in practice and as a principle - aren't now abandoned.”

Picture: CommonSpace

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