College staff unite to strike over pay

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The Independent Online
More than 220 colleges and universities throughout Britain face an unprecedented 24-hour pay strike by 100,000 employees with the threat of worse disruption to come.

Leaders of a whole range of employees from professors to porters yesterday announced a vote in favour of industrial action which will begin with a day-long stoppage on 19 November and continue with indefinite action short of strikes to "gum up the works".

More walkouts are possible and academics at the older universities are considering a plan to disrupt examinations if management refuses to improve its proposals on pay.

Union leaders yesterday said the vote - in protest at a 1.5 per cent offer for most staff and 2.5 per cent for manual workers - was the first time in British academic history that all employees in higher education had opted to strike on the same issue at the same time.

The aim on 19 November is to shut down the whole sector, although turnout in the ballots varied from 38 per cent to 70 per cent among the eight organisations involved The polls in favour of strikes varied between 52 per cent and 76 per cent.

Employees' leaders, who have won the support of the National Union of Students, are to mount picket lines on the strike day and expect that some non-union staff will refuse to cross.

John Akker, general secretary of lecturers' union NATFHE, whose membership is concentrated at the new universities and colleges of further education, said the campaign was aimed at securing a reasonable new offer from management rather than disrupting services to students.

The unions say that pay of employees in the sector varies from an average pounds 7,504 among manual workers, pounds 12,655 for white-collar staff and more than pounds 26,000 a year for top academics. The salaries of senior dons had been tied to high grade civil servants and MPs, but the Whitehall mandarins were now paid pounds 39,000 a year and parliamentarians pounds 43,000.

New lecturers at the older institutions were paid around pounds 15,000 a year and researchers at the newer establishments earned just pounds 9,000.

Elaine Harrison, head of public service union Unison, said the offer meant only 10p an hour to her members.

"The ballot result sends out a clear message that Unison members are angry with this derisory and unfair offer. They are sick of bearing the brunt of government cutbacks."

Chris Kaufman of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said that attempts by some institutions to table local offers had been rejected by the unions because they were intent on preserving national pay bargaining. However, such gestures showed there was more money in the system.

Stephen Rouse, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, said management understood the feelings of staff, but did not have the funds to reward the "magnificent" contribution they had made in increasing productivity. He said there had been a cut in government funding of 2.1 per cent in cash terms