Like many people across the country, FE lecturers have risen to repeated challenges over the course of the COVID 19 pandemic. Despite the challenges, they continued to deliver for college students.
The pandemic has seen staff across the FE sector, who were already feeling unsustainable workloads and repeated management led demands for more flexibility, go well beyond the call of duty. While many lecturers got to grips with delivering online learning some staff have struggled through much of the past two years wearing PPE and delivering learning in campus salons, workshops, labs and kitchens. Each scenario brought its own pressures, that lecturers faced head on and through their commitment, creativity and professionalism, delivered for their students.
Many staff have handed over their homes to colleges by running mini campuses from their kitchens, bedrooms and other living spaces, while a great proportion did this whilst balancing childcare during lockdowns. The additional pressures of working from home, meant many lecturers found it incredibly difficult to switch off, with the blurring of lines between working time and non-working time. Simply put lecturers have delivered, have delivered learning, have delivered support to students, have delivered course developments, online development, alternative assessment models and more. Much of this has come at a cost, certainly a financial cost for all, and a significant cost at that, increasing heating, lighting and internet use.
As we begin to emerge from Omicron, lecturers are entitled to feel, as we all do, that our employers should recognise how far beyond the call we have all gone. We delivered for our students, we kept colleges running when systems all around us were collapsing, we are now entitled to demand that we should be awarded a decent pay offer. We are now entitled to expect that having delivered we should be given some recognition and thanks.
Unfortunately, our employers have failed to make a pay offer that meets this expectation. Since the EIS-FELA pay claim was submitted to the NJNC negotiations have been slow, protracted and frustrating. A resounding rejection of the employers’ offer, by a consultative survey of EIS-FELA members, failed to bring them back to the table with an increase. Following a dispute being declared, a consultative ballot was conducted by EIS-FELA in which a strong majority of members made clear their willingness to take both strike action and action short of strike (ASOS) in pursuit of a fair pay award. However, despite this and two formal NJNC dispute resolution meetings, the employers again failed to increase the offer.
With no prospect of securing a pay award that recognises the efforts of college lecturers, a statutory ballot of EIS-FELA members, for both strike action and ASOS, opened on 10th March and will have concluded by the time you read this article.
FE lecturers are not arguing that they are an exceptional case, however they do feel that they are willing to fight for a fair and reasonable pay rise in the face of rising costs.
Inflation has reached levels not seen for generations, and it is not good enough to expect staff who delivered way beyond any expectations over the past couple of years to continue to struggle financially as their workloads have increased so dramatically.
Lecturers have delivered, it is now time for our employers to deliver – a fair pay rise.
John Kelly, EIS-FELA