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Fair Pay: Scotland's Colleges and Universities

Fighting for Fair Pay is the plainly titled campaign of EIS FELA - the union representing lecturing staff in Scotland's Further Education Colleges. Since May of this year FELA have been engaged in action to attempt to encourage their employer to provide a fair pay offer.

This month and next, we are seeing that action escalated to a rolling campaign of targeted strike action.

Industrial action by this group of workers is not new but what is increasing the tension now is the employer’s assertion (College Employers Scotland) that any wage rise will be funded by job losses.

Earlier in September the EIS General Secretary Andrea Bradley and the STUC Deputy General Secretary Linda Somerville stood alongside others outside the Scottish Parliament to make plain to the Scottish Government that they must play a role in supporting a fully funded settlement. Importantly representatives of the college support staff unions (Unite and Unison) were also at that demonstration.

EIS FELA now plan to reinforce this message with strike action across the country that includes strike action at colleges in Glasgow, Dundee and Fife that are in the constituencies of the First Minister, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education.

In parallel to the unfolding situation above there has been action at Scotland’s universities led by the support staff union Unite. Building on recent experience, members in this sector are increasingly determined to take on management that are only too happy to reward themselves with above inflation rises and to be paid more than the First Minister.

The university sector in Scotland enjoys public financial support but has fostered a management culture that emphasises a private business ethos. University principals enjoy inflated salaries whilst cleaning, catering, technical and support staff are told by UCEA (the employers association) that wage increases for the lowest paid at universities would be unsustainable.

This week will see Unison and UCU follow Unite on to the picket line at universities across the country. In Glasgow, where there has been an ongoing strike over threatened compulsory redundancies of college staff, a demonstration is taking place today (September 19th) to bring further and higher education together. And in Dundee on the same day strikers from Abertay University and other trade unionists will attend a rally hosted by Unite, Unison and UCU at the University of Dundee.

Worryingly for the Scottish Government, trades union are beginning to work together across and between sectors. Meeting the wage demands of all across the public sector will not be simple given the devolution settlement and the economic logic emanating from Westminster.

Nor will managing groups of workers who have experienced strike action and seem more determined than ever to ensure public services deliver for all at the same time as ensuring the workers who deliver those services are treated with dignity and respect.

With the Scottish budget approaching Humza Yousaf would do well to listen to Roz Foyer of the STUC, and others, who are calling for a redistribution of income and wealth that addresses Scotland's needs and marks a difference from the continuity politics of broken Britain.

Furthermore, the Scottish Government have to avoid the New Labour trap of saying one thing whilst failing to do anything. Workers on picket lines are talking about the fair work framework, brought in by the Scottish Government, but which looks increasingly fragile in the face of a Scottish Government unwilling to ensure management in sectors like Further and Higher Education implement the values of this framework.

Published 19th September 2023


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