Colleges Hiding Behind UK Govt Anti-Trade Union Laws to Suppress Staff Action in Pay Dispute

Created on: 02 Oct 2023

Scotland’s colleges have used UK anti-trade union laws, introduced by the Conservative government, to suppress Scotland’s lecturers from extending their industrial action in a long-running dispute over pay.

The UK has some of the most restrictive anti-trade union legislation in the world, placing significant barriers in the way of any group of workers seeking to protect their rights as employees.

Scotland’s public sector colleges refused a trade union request to extend the legal mandate for the ongoing industrial action, despite the Scottish Government stating that it opposes the anti-trade union laws and does not wish to see them implemented in Scotland.

This forced a re-ballot of EIS-FELA (Educational Institute of Scotland – Further Education Lecturers’ Association) members, at the same time as they have been forced to be fully engaged in strike action across the month of September.

The result very narrowly fell under the very strict restrictions placed on trade unions by the UK Government laws.

Members of EIS-FELA have been undertaking industrial action short of strike since May 2023, escalating to strike action earlier this month, faced with a sub-standard pay offer from College Employers Scotland (CES) that would cost potentially over 400 lecturing jobs.

Despite recent discussions between EIS-FELA, CES and the Minister for Further Education, Graeme Dey, the representatives of college employers have yet to make any progress towards an improved offer on pay and job security.

EIS-FELA have called on the Scottish Government to work with College Employers Scotland to facilitate a fully funded and fair pay award that would not result in job losses.

With no improved offer in sight, further scheduled strike action will go ahead next week with three days of consecutive strike action to take place in the constituencies of the First Minister, Deputy First Minister, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Minister for Further Education.

Commenting, EIS General Secretary Andrea Bradley said, "The ballot result fell very narrowly- less than half a percent- under the highly restrictive turnout threshold set by the UK Government’s anti-trade union laws. The result still shows overwhelming support for continuing industrial action, amongst those who participated in the ballot with more than 80% voting for continuation of the industrial action. 

"It is deeply regrettable that College Employers Scotland and by extension college Principals have failed to come back with a fair pay offer to staff, and have instead dragged this dispute out while continuing to offer a sub-inflation pay settlement tied to job cuts.

"The decision by college employers to refuse an extension of the legal industrial action mandate flies in the face of the Scottish Government’s stated opposition to the use of anti-trade union laws in Scotland. Instead of negotiating towards a fair pay settlement, Scottish colleges prefer to hide behind some of the most restrictive anti-trade union legislation in the world to prevent staff from continuing their industrial action."

Ms Bradley added, “The EIS-FELA Executive has decided this afternoon to move immediately to re-ballot its members to allow industrial action to continue in pursuit of a fair pay settlement and defence of jobs. We will also continue with the move to targeted action next week, which has been forced by the Scottish Government’s seeming unwillingness to provide adequate funding for Further Education and for pay and protection of jobs for public sector workers across the college sector.

"The Scottish Government should be enhancing the funding for education to help the country work its way out of the current economic crisis. Instead, it has delivered steep real-terms cuts to Further Education funding, as highlighted in the recent report from Scotland’s Auditor General.

"Next week’s targeted strike action will shine a harsh spotlight on what has so far been a political failing- one that the Scottish Government can and must rectify now by providing the funds for an enhanced pay offer that will not see jobs put in jeopardy."