On Wednesday 15th February, the EIS-FELA opened a consultative ballot for industrial action following months of frustrating pay negotiations at the National Joint Negotiating Committee (NJNC). The ballot closed on Thursday 9th March with the following result:

Turnout: 76%

YES to Strike Action: 70%

YES to ASOS: 91%

Following a protracted dispute, over pay, last year, the EIS-FELA submitted a £5000 flat rated salary claim for the pay year 2022-23. At the time the claim was submitted, the EIS-FELA negotiators made clear that signs were inflation was to spiral and that a swift resolution on pay would be preferable for both sides of the NJNC.

Unfortunately, College employers did not heed the EIS-FELA’s calls for swift resolution and failed to bring a counter offer to the negotiating table for months. A formal dispute was declared, over the lack of any offer, before college employers responded to the pay claim with an offer of a 2% salary uplift. In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, this derisory offer was swiftly rejected by the EIS-FELA negotiators.

Despite several meetings of the NJNC since the rejection of the 2% offer, college employers have failed to return with any improvement. In the face of this lack of urgency from their employers, the EIS-FELA has had little choice but to, once again, move towards industrial action in the further education sector.

College lecturers are no strangers to industrial action, having had to take that step almost every year for the best part of a decade. Following what was a challenging dispute last year, the EIS-FELA has sought to engage with members, via a survey and feedback from branches, regarding their priorities for the FE sector.

This engagement led to the launch of the Fighting for the Future of Further Education campaign in October 2022. The goal of the EIS-FELA, in undertaking this national campaign, is to see tangible progress on six key demands:

1. Accountable college governance.

2. Fair work for all college lecturers.

3. Protecting quality teaching and learning.

4. Fairer funding for Further Education.

5. Tackling unnecessary and increasing workload.

6. Securing a fair pay rise.

It is extremely disappointing that the EIS-FELA finds itself again moving towards industrial action on the sixth of these demands, especially when the representatives of college employers expressed broad support for all six demands, at a meeting of the NJNC, shortly following the launch of the campaign.

While the pay element of the Fighting for the Future of Further Education campaign continues, the EIS-FELA is also undertaking work on the other five demands, including a survey to identify workload drivers that is open as this SEJ goes to print. Through campaign activity, engagement with government and negotiation at the NJNC, the EIS-FELA hopes to ensure effective progress is made on all six campaign demands, thus ensuring that the Further Education sector secures the positive change it sorely needs.

The strong turnout in this consultative ballot sends the message that college employers must show leadership and return to the table ready to negotiate seriously on pay. However, if this does not take place, the EIS-FELA is prepared to move to a statutory ballot, that will open on Monday 20th March. EIS-FELA members will again be asked to support both action short of strike (ASOS) and strike action in this vote.

Following last year’s challenging pay dispute, the EIS-FELA has engaged with its membership through a survey and branch feedback, and agreed a strategy that will seek to deploy ASOS, in the first instance, and strike action as a last resort in pursuit of a fair pay award. ASOS will take the form of a withdrawal of goodwill and a resulting boycott, prior to the summer, and, in the absence of an acceptable pay offer, would be escalated to strike action in August/September.

The ball is now firmly in the court of college employers, who must move forward from the rightly rejected 2% pay offer for college lecturers.

EIS gives notice of statutory industrial action ballot in colleges over pay

On Monday 13th March 2023, the EIS-Further Education Lecturers Association (EIS-FELA) issued seven days’ notice letters informing college employers that a statutory ballot for industrial action would commence on Monday 20th March.

The EIS-FELA has been in formal dispute with college employers, at the National Joint Negotiating Committee (NJNC), since January, with negotiations having failed to move forward from a 2% salary uplift offer that was rejected by EIS-FELA negotiators prior to Christmas 2022.

EIS-FELA members, across Scotland’s Further Education colleges, are being asked to indicate support for both action short of strike (ASOS) and strike action in this statutory ballot. If no equitable and fair pay offer is made by college employers, then it is envisaged that action short of strike will commence prior to the summer with a boycott of student results and a withdrawal of goodwill. If this fails to produce an acceptable pay offer from college employers, then strike action will be deployed as a last resort in August/September this year.

Commenting, EIS General Secretary Andrea Bradley said, “In the face of the lack of parity and equity with teachers and the wider public sector when it comes to the pay of college lecturers, the EIS-FELA has been left with no option but to commence a statutory ballot for industrial action. College employers have failed to make any improvement, or indicate any willingness to improve, on a derisory 2% pay offer for Scotland’s college lecturers. In a cost-of-living crisis, such a position is simply unacceptable and college employers must seek to address this as a matter of urgency.”

Outgoing EIS-FELA President, Charlie Montgomery, said, “Scotland’s colleges have experienced nearly a decade of regular industrial action and it is wholly regrettable that the further education sector once again faces the very real prospect of significant disruption prior to and following the summer break. We urge college employers to return to the negotiating table and make an offer that is both equitable and fair. The time is now for those who run colleges in Scotland to show leadership and defend their workers’ pay.”