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Picket in clash with college head as east London lecturers go on strike

PUBLISHED: 19:00 30 April 2019 | UPDATED: 08:19 01 May 2019

Pickets outside New City College in Poplar High Street at start of lectueres' three-day strike. Picture: Ken Mears

Pickets outside New City College in Poplar High Street at start of lectueres' three-day strike. Picture: Ken Mears

Archant

Lecturers and college staff began their three-day strike in east London today with pickets outside the Poplar and Stepney campuses of New City College and a confrontation with the principal.

Picket organiser Richard McEwan... confrontation in street with college principal over low pay. Picture: Ken MearsPicket organiser Richard McEwan... confrontation in street with college principal over low pay. Picture: Ken Mears

The college insisted no lessons were disrupted and all courses continued, despite union claims that the walk-out over pay and workloads was overwhelming.

Members of the University and College Union are on strike until Friday over extra workloads and their salaries they say haven't kept pace with inflation over the past 10 years.

Pickets appeared outside the main campus at Poplar High Street and outside in Arbour Square where there appears to have been a stand-off.

Maths lecturer Richard McEwan, a union rep, was outside the Arbour Square building when group principal Gerry McDonald emerged after running one of the lectures.

Richard urged him to meet some of the low-pay staff and agency teaching assistants, but claims the response was to “take on the union” and win.

“I promised the principal that he wasn't a victim,” he told the East London Advertiser. “We should be on the same side.

“The union is calling for £4,000 student funding from the government to be uplifted to £4,250. But much of the funding seems to be going on restructuring and voluntary redundancies rather than a pay rise to meet inflation.”

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But the college today slammed the confrontation as bad tactics by the union, in a statement to the paper: “It is a shame that a union member chose to follow Gerry down the street after he'd finished teaching his class this morning. It was not the setting for meaningful negotiation.”

There had been ongoing negotiations which ended in deadlock before the union balloted to strike.

Today's lessons have been covered by subject specialists, with many departments having been staffed or with only one or two teachers out, according to the college, claiming that “fewer than 100” lecturers out of 185 were on strike.

The strike is part of a long-running dispute that also involves the union and other London colleges.

It started with government funding cuts to Further Education before Poplar's former Tower Hamlets College was forced to merge with Hackney and Redbridge colleges two years ago to save costs, forming the New City group. Staff at the 'Hackney' campus in Hoxton were balloting today on whether to join the strike.

The college was hit by £1.2m budget cuts three years ago, with several courses having to be dropped. Mr McDonald himself as college principal joined mass lobbies of Parliament in the past, calling for an end to the cuts to Further Education.

But he now clams the union's demands for a “significant pay rise” and fewer teaching hours are not feasible.

He said: “I have promised our staff that when government funding improves, any increase will be spent on their pay. It's a travesty that funding for further education has been cut year on year for over a decade, now at 30pc over that period.”

The union points out that the pay 'freeze' and the increased workloads means lecturers' salaries have shrunk by 25 per cent against inflation, making strike action “always a last resort”.

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