Union bosses argue that the Scottish Government will be giving “carte blanche” to further education institutions to cut staff at will if they don’t curtail redundancy plans in the works at Scottish major colleges.

Staff at colleges across the country have been embroiled in disputes with their respective employers for months over proposed redundancies, pay cuts and other grievances.

Members of the EIS-Further Education Lecturers Association (EIS-FELA) at City of Glasgow College have taken to the picket lines on multiple occasions to object to proposed redundancies.

And a recent anti-bullying dispute launched by EIS-FELA alleges that NESCol has been unfairly targeting union members with pay cuts to undermine industrial action.

In a letter to Graeme Dey MSP, minister for higher and further education, the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) called for the government to step in urgently to resolve the ongoing disputes.

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But if the planned cuts to college staff and pay go unchecked, STUC general secretary Rozanne Foyer said that it could lead to an avalanche of cost-cutting measures across the sector.

“Simply put, if Edinburgh College, NESCol and the City of Glasgow College senior management succeed in their anti-union cuts plans, the Scottish Government are, by proxy, giving carte blanche to all Further Education institutions to cut at will.

“This is a litmus test of the Scottish Government’s resolve.”

‘Litmus test” of Government resolve

Scotland has committed to becoming a Fair Work Nation by 2025, characterized in part by equal access to job security and employment opportunities.

Ms Foyer said that these goals are in jeopardy if publicly-funded employers are allowed to cut hundreds of jobs.

“We cannot be a Fair Work Nation if college workers are forced to take strike action to get a decent cost-of-living pay rise, as they have done every year for nearly a decade.

“We cannot be a Fair Work Nation if we allow our colleges to target union reps and test the water on compulsory redundancies of lecturers.

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“We cannot sit by and watch our college sector staff suffer death by a thousand cuts.

“If the Scottish Government are as committed to making Scotland a Fair Work nation as they claim, they must intervene urgently in this dispute and broker a resolution.”

Since 2007, the Scottish Government has maintained a commitment to “No Compulsory Redundancy (NCR)” in its public sector pay strategy.

There have been questions over how this policy factors into plans by public college to cut staff.

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The Scottish Government has kept the disputes at arm’s length, pointing out that colleges are not directly beholden to the Government’s public sector pay policy.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is absolutely clear that Fair Work must be the guiding principle for all decisions and that employers and Trade Unions should work together to reach decisions that ensure workers are treated fairly.

“The Minister for Higher and Further Education, has already written to college principals to remind them of this. 

“Although incorporated colleges are not directly bound by the Public Sector Pay Policy, we expect that all publicly funded institutions should have regard for it and we expect management and unions to make every effort to work constructively together to protect jobs.

Gavin Donoghue, director of College Employers Scotland (CES), said that colleges are committed to treating employees fairly and protecting jobs.

He said: "They have made an explicit commitment, in line with the Fair Work agenda, to make every effort to manage organisational change through voluntary measures

"Compulsory redundancies will only be used as a last resort when all other measures have been considered.

“CES has sought to be proactive and flexible throughout recent negotiations with trade unions, despite absorbing funding cuts of £52 million in the 2022/23 Academic Year and facing flat cash budgets going forward.

"Employers have moved to a two-year deal and more than doubled our initial pay proposal to a full and final offer of a £3,500 rise for all college staff over 2022/23 and 2023/24. If accepted, it would provide an average pay rise of 8% for lecturers and 11%, on average, for support staff.”

“The Scottish Government continues to encourage trade unions and employers to negotiate and bring an end to disputes and industrial action.”