Around 20 people stand outside a school building. They are holding placards and strike posters. They are facing the camera and smiling.

UCU Strikes begin at City of Bristol College

City of Bristol College staff are on strike this week in dispute over pay and conditions. 

The strike has been called by the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) and coincides with actions at 29 colleges across the UK. There will be a total of ten strike days spread over the next four weeks. 

There are picket lines outside the College Green and Ashley Down centres and the South Bristol Skills Academy.

Julian Wilcox, UCU branch secretary, was on the College Green picket on Monday and spoke to TBA about the strikes. 

‘It’s just been absolutely amazing. People are saying enough is enough with everything that’s going on in the country at the moment. We’ve got to stand up together, we’re stronger together,’ said Julian. 

6 people holds placards reading "UCU official dispute"
Smiles on the picket line outside the Ashley Down centre. Image: City of Bristol College UCU.

Many strikers had never been on a picket line before, said Julian, and membership had increased 13% over the preceding weekend, highlighting the desperation many staff feel in the face of the cost of living crisis. 

The UCU reports that pay in further education has fallen 35% behind inflation since 2009 and that the pay gap between school and college teachers can be as large as £9,000 a year. Employer representative the Association of Colleges made a pay recommendation of just 2.5% in June which was rejected by the UCU. 

However, Julian said for those on the Bristol pickets, the strike goes far beyond pay. 

‘We’re striking because of workload, not just the pay, it’s the workload. And it’s the lack of respect, professional respect. We’re micromanaged these days. We’ve got professionals who’ve got some great degrees, some great ideas but no one’s ever asked for them. We’re striking for that.’

College lecturers can work up to 60 hours a week, said Julian, whilst redundancies in support staff have pushed admin work onto teaching staff resulting in evening and weekend work. 

‘They’ve put so much admin on us we can’t do quality schemes of work anymore and quality lesson planning and do all the things that you and I know could make a better experience for the student.’

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Julian said there is a high staff turnover rate and he has seen lots of his colleagues leave the profession because of stress. One former colleague, Julian said, retrained as a lorry driver because of the lower stress, reduced admin and higher pay. 

Despite the serious nature of the strikes, the pickets were lively with plenty of support from the public. 

Julian reported that the number of motorists honking their horns in support as they passed the South Bristol Skills Academy picket was so great that nearby residents complained about the noise. 

There will be a mass rally on Wednesday (September 28) where members from the three striking colleges will come together from 11am. Scheduled speakers include Justine Mercer, president-elect of the UCU, Brendan Kelly of the RMT, Kevin Beazer of the CWU, and Hannah David, chair of the south west TUC.

The list of October strike dates is as follows:

  • Thursday 6 and Friday 7
  • Monday 10 and Tuesday 11
  • Tuesday 18 Wednesday, 19 and Thursday 20

Julian said the union’s demands are with the college management for consideration. 

‘We’ve had four negotiations around pay. They’ve known for two months, basically, about this. If nothing meaningful is put back on the table then we’ll be out again.’

The college strike comes as the UCU ballots university members for strike action over a cost of living pay rise. There have been three rounds of strikes by the UCU at the University of Bristol in the last two years related to pension cuts.

Feature image: City of Bristol College UCU.

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