Staff strike at Lewisham College after “unacceptable” pay offer

The picket line outside Lewisham College on Friday. Pic: Henry Smith

Dozens of University and College Union (UCU) members picketed outside Lewisham College on Friday as part of ongoing industrial action in response to pay.

The National College Group (NCG), the organisation which runs the college, has offered staff a 3.5% rise in pay, which is below the current 9.9% rate of inflation. On top of the pay rise, a one-off payment of £500 is being offered, which staff at the college described as “unacceptable”.

The pay rise offer combines a 1% rise agreed upon last year, and 2.5% offered this year. Instead, union members have requested a 10% rise in line with the current rate of inflation.

Striking staff held placards, blew whistles and chanted slogans while passing motorists honked their horns in solidarity.

Rebecca Galbraith, UCU representative for Lewisham College said staff had faced a 35% pay cut in real terms since 2009, as pay has not kept pace with rises in inflation over the last 13 years.

She said: “Staff can’t afford to work here on this pay anymore… many of us have worked here for a long time, we’re part of this community and we care a lot about the future of it, but we want people to be able to live here and have a decent standard of living and at the moment, particularly for new teachers, that’s not possible.”

They plan to continue strike action for five further days across this week and next week unless they are offered an acceptable pay deal, however, Galbraith described college management as “intransigent”.

Maths lecturer Georgi Bochevski explained the impact of the cost of living crisis and inflation on staff and their families. He said: “Food, transport, rent, every single bill that you pay at the end of the month went up, and our salary stays the same. “You start looking for extra work, but you don’t have time to do that work because the workload is massive… we can’t even cope with the work we have in the college.”

He went on to describe how staff have turned to credit cards and overdrafts to meet their everyday needs and that some teachers have used food banks to help make ends meet.

A spokeswoman for NCG told South London Press: “We understand the financial pressures that our colleagues are facing at the moment and that is why we have offered both a consolidated and non-consolidated award to provide them with immediate support.

“Our offer is a 3.5 per cent increase on last year’s wages, made up of a 2.5 per cent increase this year and a 1% increase already built in from last year’s pay award. In addition, we have offered a £500 pro-rata one off payment to all colleagues in October’s pay. This offer is aligned to what we know we are able to afford, and we are continuing to review the situation in line with the mini-budget.”

Staff at 23 colleges across the UK are striking over pay in what the UCU has called the “biggest ever series of college strikes”.

The UCU have produced a report titled on the breadline: The cost of living crisis for England’s college workers, which shows that most college staff are financially insecure.

The report found that 7 in 10 college staff are considering leaving further education.

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