Good progress has been made. The vast majority of colleges have signed up to national bargaining, and three out of four unions have accepted the pay offer for 2015-16.
I made my three immediate priorities clear to the Educational Institute of Scotland and to the management side. Those priorities are the pay award for teaching staff; a formal commitment to national pay bargaining from those who have not yet given a commitment; and a clear road map with short to medium-term milestones for harmonising the terms and conditions of college staff.
I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer and note her three points. However, I have serious concerns for students in further education—including those who study part time and could lose out on a large proportion of their time with lecturers. There must be a fair arrangement for lecturers, who work beyond the call of duty to make it possible for marking, planning and the provision of support for individual students to be carried out within contracted hours.
Having talked with Russell Taylor, a union representative at Borders College Scotland, in my region, I ask the cabinet secretary whether she believes that the imposition of a pay award on FE lecturers makes it more likely that the dispute will be resolved amicably. What action can be taken to avoid the first day of the 32-day strike that is ahead of us?
Claudia Beamish touches on a number of very important points. The National Union of Students in Scotland has written to me to share the concerns that she articulated regarding the impact of strike action on students, particularly in the very important third term that we are approaching. The priority has to be on the resolution of the dispute.
It is for the employers to account for imposing a pay deal. I have met representatives of the employers’ side this week, and I am advised that there has been further constructive dialogue. I repeat my view that both the trade union side and the employers must continue to engage in that constructive dialogue, as industrial action is not in anyone’s interest, least of all that of students. The priority must be to get matters resolved.
I have an email from West Highland College, which says that it is unable to sign up to the current national bargaining initiative because it threatens the college’s financial viability and business continuity. I welcome the fact that some colleges have signed up but, where the disparity is the greatest—in other words, among the University of the Highlands and Islands colleges—will the Government dig a bit deeper to help out the colleges? We do not want there to be any initiative that would threaten their future.
I expect all colleges to be signed up to the principle of national pay bargaining. I have met representatives of the employers’ side this week to discuss how we can make that happen and facilitate that.