Further education staff in Northern Ireland begin week of walk-outs

Staff at all six further education colleges across Northern Ireland are beginning a full week of industrial action. Credit: Presseye

Staff at all six further education colleges across Northern Ireland are beginning a full week of industrial action.

This will be followed by one day strikes every six days for the next three months. It comes following a long running dispute over pay and working conditions.

The UCU which represents the majority of further education lecturers here say they have been forced to take action after a decade of their members being subject to pay freeze, followed by pay restraint, which has seen lecturer pay awards limited to between 1 % and 2% per year.

The UCU say that since serving notice of widespread industrial action the college employers have not indicated any willingness to resolve the dispute.

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Ms Clarke said “This dispute is not just a demand for additional funding, it is about where spending is prioritised within college budgets. At no stage have the employers been prepared to open their books to allow a proper analysis of income and expenditure.

"It seems they are not prepared to countenance the possibility of lecturers being better paid if spending decisions were to change, they just blame the Department for Economy budget allocations. The trouble is, this dispute is not just about pay, it’s about working conditions too.

"In four years of negotiations, they have not agreed to talk us once about workload. Blames for that resides solely with the employers not the Civil Service.”

Ms Clarke said “Lecturers in Northern Ireland have the heaviest timetable of classroom delivery of any other UK jurisdiction. This prevents lecturers supplementing their pay from other sources. If the weekly teaching hours were reduced, lecturers could boost their wages working part time in industry, which also provides opportunity for skill development that can only enhance the students’ learning experience.

"The employers’ claim that they are powerless to resolve this dispute is false. The truth is they are unwilling to implement the contractual change necessary to improve working lives both qualitatively and financially.”

The Union says that until these steps are taken the sector will continue to face disruption for the rest of this year, and into the next, if matters remain unresolved.