Staff at three West Midlands colleges strike in dispute over pay


University and College Union (UCU) members based at City of Wolverhampton College, Coventry College (pictured) and Warwickshire College Group are undertaking strike action this week in a dispute over pay.

Staff who are members of UCU and who work at the City of Wolverhampton College are conducting strike action today (Monday 8 April 2019) and tomorrow (Tuesday 9 April 2019) across the college’s Paget Road, Wellington Road and Bilston Street campuses from 8.00am. The industrial action will continue on Wednesday 10 April 2019, solely at the Bilston Street site.

Coventry College UCU members will join picket lines at the college’s Henley and Swanswell Street campuses from 8.00am on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week, while those at Warwickshire College Group are starting their 48-hour strike action today, across seven sites, including Evesham College, Royal Lemington Spa College, Rugby College, Pershore College and Warwick Trident College.

On Tuesday 9 April 2019, UCU members across Coventry College and Warwickshire College Group will conduct a lunchtime protest and rally in Coventry city centre.

The industrial action is a result of college management failing to make an adequate pay offer and neglecting to address key issues, such as excessive workloads, according to UCU. The trade union claims that the pay gap between teaching staff working in colleges versus those based at schools currently stands at £7,000, with college teachers seeing their pay decline by 25% over the past decade.

This month’s industrial action follows on from strikes undertaken by six colleges in November 2018; a further 12 colleges completed industrial action in January 2019, and UCU members at five colleges went on strike in March 2019.

The majority (92%) of UCU members voted for strike action at Coventry College, while 91% supported industrial action at City of Wolverhampton College and 76% voted in favour of strike action at Warwickshire College Group.

UCU has also reported that City of Wolverhampton College has refused an offer from UCU to meet through The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas).

Anne O’Sullivan, regional officer at UCU, said: “Strike action is always a last resort, but if colleges won’t work with us to prioritise staff, then we are left with no other choice. We are particularly frustrated that City of Wolverhampton College turned down our offer to meet through expert mediators to try and avoid strike action.

“Colleges [that] engage with us on the pay and conditions of their staff will receive a positive hearing, but those who refuse should not be surprised at the anger of their staff. Pay in further education is a problem, and it is time for colleges to get serious and do something about it.”

A spokesperson at Warwickshire College Group added: “We are aware that a small number of our staff are taking industrial action [on Monday 8 April] tomorrow Tuesday 9 April. This strike is fundamentally part of a national pay dispute with the University and College Union seeking a 5% annual pay award in 2018-2019 for staff working in colleges.

“It is widely acknowledged that the government needs to increase the level of funding in colleges to enable colleges to continue to provide first class technical education and to afford to reward the hardworking staff through annual pay awards. Warwickshire College Group has gifted all staff some additional holiday days this year as a step to reward their contribution, while at the same time ensuring further financial pressures are not created through increasing pay costs.

“We hope the funding situation for colleges changes in the near future. [While] we recognise the right for UCU to take industrial action it is always disappointing when our students’ learning is interrupted by such action. At Warwickshire College Group, our priority is the welfare of our staff and students, and therefore I can confirm that we will remain open during this period of industrial action. We expect to continue to deliver the highest standards of education for our students with minimal disruption.”    

City of Wolverhampton College and Coventry College were unavailable for comment at the time of publication.