Staff at East Sussex College Group will be taking strike action next week in a row over pay.
The college’s sites in Eastbourne, Hastings, Lewes and Newhaven will all be affected and members of the University College Union (UCU) will be on picket lines outside the main entrances from 8am on Tuesday and Wednesday (January 29 and 30).
The dispute centres on what the union says is the failure of colleges to make a decent pay offer to staff who have seen their pay decline by 25 per cent over the last decade.
The pay gap between schoolteachers and teachers in colleges is now £7,000.
But East Sussex College Group says the lack of funding from the Government for higher education has put a ‘huge strain’ on colleges.
UCU regional official Michael Moran said: “UCU members at East Sussex College Group are being forced to take strike action to secure fair pay.
“Staff have had enough of increasing workloads while their pay is eroded. The college needs to prioritise its staff and come back to us with a meaningful offer. If it refuses then further strikes are on the cards.”
Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd said raised the issue of staff pay in Parliament this week and said the time had come to earmark funds specifically for college staff salaries.
Mr Lloyd said: “I spoke this week in Parliament, expressing my profound concerns at the systematic real term reductions in further education teachers’ salaries over the last ten years.
“All governments are culpable so, as I made clear, its time for all of us to press the Secretary of State to do the right thing.
“Invest properly in the sector and ear-mark additional funds for teachers’ salaries. When the average further education teacher is earning £7,000 less than a school teacher, something’s gone badly wrong.”
In the recent ballot, nine in ten (91 per cent) of UCU members who voted backed strike action.
UCU members at 15 English colleges are walking out as part of a second wave of strikes after staff at six colleges took action in November.
The union said further strikes were planned if the college refused to make a decent offer and that it could not hide behind government cuts if it wanted to avoid further disruption.
Responding, a spokesperson from the College Group said: “The East Sussex College Group remains committed to working with the union to demand fairer FE funding from the Government.”
East Sussex College Group chief executive officer Clive Cooke said the college’s teachers are very committed to their students and he understood and empathised with many of the union’s concerns but stressed the Government needed to ‘loosen its purse strings’ to move the situation forward.
Mr Cooke said: “The news comes as funding rates per student remain frozen and colleges face inflation-linked increases from suppliers across the board.
“These budget cuts have put a huge strain on colleges and salaries in the county and across England and Wales.
“We are keen to talk with our union colleagues locally and nationally to try and resolve possible strike action
“Indeed, we want to work with in partnership with our union colleagues to demand better Government investment in the further education sector.
“If we are joined up in our approach to Government, I believe we will have a greater chance of success.”
He encouraged people to sign a petition calling for fairer funding for the sector, which is available here.