SCOTLAND’s college support workers are demanding a four-day working week and a pay increase as part of proposals put forward by unions for staff to return to their jobs in the “new normal”.

Proposals put forward by Unison in collaboration with the GMB and Unite the Union Scotland, seen by The Herald, include payments for home working to be handed over to staff, backdated to include the lockdown and a £1,100 flat rate increase on all salary points from September 2020.

The demands come as newly-qualified teachers have written to the Scottish Government to offer their services to help schools re-opening as an SNP former minister has labelled the plans “absolutely unacceptable”.

Scotland’s colleges are facing losing millions of pounds in revenue during the Covid-19 pandemic – but union bosses insist the new arrangements take into account realistic living costs and a fair deal in adapting to life as the country emerges from the crisis, with social distancing still likely to be in place.

Union leaders want a four-day working week “at no loss of earnings”, based on a 32-hour week. There are also calls for an “urgent joint working group” to be set up to agree funding to support the mental health and wellbeing of staff – as well as green travel schemes for workers to take advantage of loans to buy bicycles.

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The unions have also proposed “levelling of annual leave entitlement for all colleges to 49 days” and a payment of a £500 allowance to all first aiders.

But one of the biggest asks in the plans is a £1,100 salary increase to take affect by September.

In 2018, unions struck a deal for a two-and-a-half year pay agreement with Colleges Scotland’s employers association – which saw pay rise by at least £1,600 over the 29-month period.

Chris Greenshields, branch secretary of the Unison Scotland further education branch, said: "Unison is keen to secure a fair cash pay settlement for professional and support staff in colleges after years of suppression of wages.

“Additionally though we are keen to be innovative and to change working practices to reflect new ways of viewing work-life balance, productivity, green travel to work schemes.

“We hope that the further education employers will engage us in serious discussions on implementing these measures for introduction in the new academic year. This approach will benefit employers, staff, students and wider society."

But colleges are not exempt from the Covid-19 crisis and are facing a stark economic outlook, alongside many of Scotland's other sectors.

Karen Watt, from the Scottish Funding Council, has warned that “there is no doubt that Covid-19 presents a unique and significant external shock to further and higher education in Scotland”.

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She added: “We estimate that there will be losses in the region of £25 million in the current academic year, but the losses will be much greater in the next year.

“Colleges and universities will also play a vital role in helping Scotland to recover from the current situation.”

College staff in Scotland are able to return to work in phase two of the Scottish Government's routemap in easing the coronavirus lockdown – with students allowed to return in phase three as things stand, likely to be in three weeks' time at the earliest.

The body representing Scotland's colleges has warned that the institutions face uncertain financial futures – but confirmed the union proposals were being examined.

Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said: “We welcome the Scottish Government’s announcement that we can move to phase two of the route map through the Covid-19 crisis, which means that appropriate college staff can now return to campuses to make preparations for the new academic year and the reopening of college buildings for students in phase three.

“A college sector working group, including trade union representatives, has been exploring in recent weeks how to ensure the safe reopening of campuses so that staff and students can return safely whilst adhering to Scottish Government and Public Health Scotland guidelines and social distancing measures."

She added: “The college sector is facing significant financial pressures which are being exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. "The established forum to discuss trade unions’ pay, terms and conditions claims is the National Joint Negotiating Committee and we will discuss these issues – which have only recently been submitted – through this mechanism.

“Whilst the college sector has remained open virtually with online learning continuing throughout the lockdown period, we are looking forward to seeing staff – and later students – return to campuses across Scotland.”

The University and College Union (UCU) has warned that safety advice for university staff has not been published despite the Scottish Government telling workers they can return from Monday.

The union has criticised the Scottish Government for making the announcement without signing off on advice for reopening campuses, and said the "hugely disappointing" decision which will leave staff worried.

UCU Scotland official Mary Senior said it would be "foolhardy" for staff to return without tailored guidance, despite the Government's route map out of lockdown stating college and university workers can return to make essential preparations for the planned resumption of "blended" study ahead of phase three.

Ms Senior said the move was "out of step with every other sector" and contradicted promises that the guidance would be published before staff could return.

She added: "University staff have been working tirelessly since the beginning of this crisis to move and deliver teaching and support for students online.

"UCU has been working with the Scottish Government to develop critical guidance to allow universities to move back to campus-based teaching when the time is right and it is safe for staff and students.

"It is hugely disappointing, and will be worrying for staff, to see the First Minister announce that staff can return to university buildings before the guidance we and others have been working so hard to produce is even published."

"In the absence of the guidance, and the opportunity for everyone to be reassured that the guidance, along with a risk assessment-based approach is met and adhered to, it would be foolhardy for universities to be demanding staff return to workplaces."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The safety and wellbeing of students and staff is our overriding priority as universities plan for the next academic year.

"As the Higher and Further Education Minister has made clear, it is important to emphasise that we expect only a small number of people to be on campus for essential preparations for re-opening in phase three, and remote working remains the default position for those who can.

"Guidance is due to be published next week and we continue to work closely with universities, student bodies and university staff representatives on plans for a phased return to campus."