The Glasgow Kelvin College board voted down the college's plan to withhold pay from staff participating in a union results boycott, The Herald can exclusively reveal.

At a snap meeting of college principals in February, college leaders decided to deem staff members taking part in industrial action short of a strike (ASOS) carried out by EIS-FELA, the lecturers' union.

In an attempt to bring employers to agree to the terms of a new pay deal, EIS-FELA members agreed earlier this year to implement a results boycott. During this type of ASOS, lecturers agree to continue teaching, marking and completing the rest of their work but refuse to enter student results into the official systems.

The threats of deeming quickly became controversial, and some colleges even appeared to back away from their initial announcement once the strategy became public. Some colleges announced their intentions to deduct 100% of pay from staff who participate in the boycott. Other colleges opted to deduct a percentage.

Although no colleges were required to carry out the deeming threats, The Herald understands that 90% of colleges said that they would consider participating in the boycott a breach of contract, which could lead to pay deductions.

Through Freedom of Information requests, The Herald learned that college leaders received legal advice regarding their deeming plans during their February meeting. Still, most of the details about the meeting were redacted. 

MSP Graeme Dey, minister for further and higher education, has repeatedly told Parliament that lecturers and EIS-FELA understand that employers are legally entitled to withhold pay during the boycott.

But more recently, Mr Dey called on the union to end its boycott and the employers to stop their threats of deeming during a meeting of the Scottish Parliament in May.

Many lecturers and EIS-FELA members did not learn about Wednesday's decision until late Thursday afternoon, when dozens of demonstrators marched through Glasgow to protest in front of local MSP offices. 

Frances Curry, a picket organiser and lecturer at City of Glasgow College, said the board's decision to vote against deeming is a clear indication of what college insiders have said since the threats were first made: Withholding pay for a results boycott is not as straightforward as it sounds.

She said that is because not every lecturer has the same marking, assessing, and resulting responsibilities. In most cases, it will depend on the type of course and its timing, meaning not everyone's marking or resulting responsibilities are guaranteed to fall within the boycott's window.

Read more: What happened when we tried to shine a light on the state of Scotland's colleges?

"[The board's vote] indicates that there are problems with the principals proposing withholding pay," Ms Curran said.

"College boards and the individuals in college boards because, if they do this, they could be facing legal action."

The Herald has seen a list of concerns brought before the college board on Wednesday night, many of which illustrate the complexities that Ms Curran discussed.

They included:

  • Arguments that there is a difference between "deliberately withholding results and not being able to result as assessment hasn’t taken place due to lack of teaching and assessment opportunities
    through strike action"
  • Questions over how the college would identify and deem staff teaching non-modular units
  • Concerns that colleges could not fairly determine how much of a staff member's work week is devoted to marking, and therefore could not assess its worth
  • Questions over the legality of the process, including how staff can be sure they aren't being penalised multiple times or otherwise unfairly

A spokesperson for Glasgow Kelvin College confirmed the decision. 

“At the Board meeting on the evening of Tuesday, June 12, Glasgow Kelvin College Board of Management decided that no salary deductions should be made for any teaching staff participating in the EIS-FELA Action Short Of Strike (ASOS) in the form of a Resulting Boycott.”

Regardless, employers and lecturers are still in a deadlock negotiating a new pay agreement, with talks taking place on Thursday.

The negotiations began when staff unions submitted a pay claim in 2022 and the most recent offer is for a three-year, £5,000 pay rise. EIS-FELA has countered with a proposal to negotiate a four-year deal.

Read more: Colleges facing budget gap of nearly half a billion pounds

Debra Wark, who works at Glasgow Kelvin and was marching in the city on Thursday, said there are plans to picket every day until summer. 

Demonstrators marched through Glasgow to several MSP's offices, including MSP John Mason, whose constituency includes the Glasgow Kelvin Haighill campus. Union representatives met with staff and voiced their concerns with the state of negotiations and plans to withhold pay from boycotting staff.

Mr Mason was not in Glasgow on Thursday, but he told The Herald that any increased funding for colleges would mean making difficult cuts to other services.

"The Scottish budget is already fully allocated for this current year 2024/25.  Of course, Westminster could provide extra funding after the General Election but that seems unlikely as neither Labour nor the Tories are planning to raise tax and in fact face a considerable deficit of their own according to the IFS.

"Therefore, any more money for the College Sector would need to come from Scottish tax increases (after April 2025) or from cutting other parts of the budget, such as the NHS or local government.

"I am struggling to see what other options are available. Therefore, I would urge both sides to sit down round the table and negotiate within the budget that colleges have already been allocated."

Lecturers have been staging picket lines and demonstrations nationwide in recent weeks, including a demonstration in front of Holyrood on Thursday.

A spokesperson for College Employers Scotland, which represents employers in negotiations, said that deeming policies are a matter for local colleges to decide.

“The response to the EIS-FELA’s resulting boycott, including potential pay deductions for those staff who take part, is a contractual matter for each individual college as the employer.

“College leaders are determined to protect students and avoid a repeat of the disruption caused by last year’s resulting boycott.

"That is why over 90% of colleges have made it clear to staff that participation in the resulting boycott would be considered a breach of contract and could lead to pay deductions.

“Deducting pay from staff is never a measure that colleges want to take. However, they simply cannot accept the risks that another resulting boycott would create for the awarding of qualifications, and the ability of students to progress in their learning journeys and careers.

“Employers have repeatedly urged the EIS-FELA to suspend all industrial action, including the resulting boycott, while pay discussions continue to progress.”