Skip to main content

Fair pay for Northern Ireland college staff

Further education lecturers in Northern Ireland have been fighting for a fair deal since 2001, when the employers made a commitment to eradicate the pay gap between lecturers and schoolteachers.

UCU members vote to accept pay offer

Following five days of talks under the chairmanship of an independent facilitator appointed by the Labour Relations Lecturers, the FE college employers in Northern Ireland put a pay offer to members to try to settle a bitter pay dispute that has been running since April 2006.

The offer involves a 3 year deal amounting to 10% across the 3 years from September 2008. The package, which has to be within the remit of civil service pay guidelines in Northern Ireland involves an award of:

  • 2.45% from September 2008
  • a further lump sum payment of £1322 to all lecturers and senior lecturers who had been two years on a threshold point and which is pensionable and consolidated
  • awards of just under 2% on top of these awards from Sept 2009 and September 2010.

The package also sees the phasing out of the senior lecturer grade (with personal lifetime protection to SLs with management responsibilities) and its replacement by a system of responsibility allowances.

The deal involves changes to the lecturer's contract and the introduction of annualised hours across the working year with up to 828 hours for student contact time with a ceiling of 25 hours per week limited to one semester. Other aspects of the deal include updating the contract for associate lecturers and hourly paid lecturers and agreement to introduce a job evaluation scheme for the sector.

UCU members voted by 591 to 291 in a 42% turn-out to accept the package bringing to an end the longest dispute ever seen in further education in Northern Ireland.

Work now commences with the employers to change the wording of existing contractual documentation to implement the deal.



Background to the dispute

Northern Ireland FE pay disputeIn 2005, UCU reached an agreement with the employers but the government's public sector pay policy put a cap on the lecturers' pay bill at 3.5%.

By 2007 Northern Ireland college lecturers had not received a pay increase for two years, which of course, further increased the gap with schoolteachers. But after further education staff staged seven strikes and operated a widespread work-to-rule and withdrawal of goodwill across the region's then 16 FE colleges, UCU in Northern Ireland agreed to a deal. That deal had three features:

  • all lecturers were awarded a 2% increase from September 1, 2006 and a further 2% from September 1, 2007.
  • from September 1, 2006, the 10-point scale for lecturers was shortened to five points and the seven-point scale for senior lecturers was shortened to five points. This meant that a lecturer starting work in an FE college would begin on a higher salary than a schoolteacher starting work.
  • from September 1, 2007, when they reach the top of the five-point scale and have stayed at that point for one year, FE lecturers will get a threshold payment of £2,433. This payment will continue for every subsequent year the lecturer is at that position.

The combined effect of these changes means that an FE lecturer in Northern Ireland who is at the top of the scale with the threshold payment in place, will earn £1322 less than a schoolteacher in the equivalent position. This was a narrowing of the pay gap. However, further education lecturers have also been seeking a system of allowances similar to that received by schoolteachers. The lack of such allowances also contributes to the gap.

More recently, a three-year pay deal for 2008/9/10 was put on the table. That deal offered:

  • increases of 2% in 2008, 2009 and 2010
  • a further award of £1322 (worth 4%) in 2008 for lecturers who had been in receipt of the threshold payment for two years
  • the deal also sought to reconfigure the senior lecturer grade and replace it in the longer term with a system of permanent and flexible allowances.

But in return, the government had insisted on 'efficiencies' which would have changed lecturers' contracts to annualised hours and raised the limit on student contact time from 23 hours per week to 25. The workload implications of the package caused lecturers great concern. There was a massive 'no' vote against the deal.




January 2007: UCU met with secretary of state Peter Hain in a bid to have the pay cap lifted. He has said he accepts in principle that lecturers should have pay parity but that would breach government's current pay policy. He offered to work with the unions to progress a case to put to government's public sector pay committee which would support lecturers.

February 2007: The government's Public Sector Pay Committee rejected the case for pay parity.

28 March 2007: Lecturers held their seventh strike since May 2006

13 April 2007: Sir Reg Empey was appointed as minister for employment and learning in the Northern Ireland Executive.

14 August 2007: UCU rejected a 'derisory' pay offer at a meeting of the Lecturers' Negotiating Committee (LNC). At the LNC the employers stated they had approval from government to offer 2% plus a cash payment of £190 for the 2006-07 pay round with a reduction in the salary scales which would benefit a small number of lecturers. They said they could not offer an upper pay spine, as applies to teachers, and they had no approval to make any offer in respect of the pay award due on 1 September 2007.

8 October 2007: An independent advisor was appointed to facilitate an agreement: read more on the appointment here

16 January 2008:
UCU members voted overwhelmingly to reject the pay proposals arising from a task force appointed by Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) Minister, Sir Reg Empey.

18 June 2008: Members reject revised pay offer that would have meant significant changes to working practices. The employers respond by sending letters to all lecturers threatening them with indefinite suspension without pay if they did not hand over information relating to student numbers and attendance

21-22 June 2008: Intensive negotiations lead to a compromise being reached which resulted in management agreeing not to act upon their threat to immediately suspend lecturers without pay and both sides referred the dispute to Northern Ireland's Labour Relations Agency.

March 2009: members vote to accept deal.



Long-term history to the dispute

In March 2000, following agreement for an independent inquiry into lecturers' pay compared with those of teachers in other sectors, the Horisk Report was published. That report found that the earnings potential for lecturers was significantly below that of schoolteachers and that teachers had significantly greater opportunities for promotion and the attraction of management and other allowances. Horisk recommended action be taken to address the differential.

In January 2001, a joint paper on the need to address the Horisk agenda was agreed at the Lecturers' Negotiating Committee (LNC). Subsequent agreement was reached at the LNC on:

  • the introduction of a threshold payments scheme to further education similar to that for schools
  • a shortened salary scale
  • an advanced lecturer scheme echoing the upper pay spine arrangements in schools.

Developing the detail of the Advanced Lecturer Scheme proved difficult and agreement between the employers and unions was reached in the spring of 2005. By this time government had introduced a cap on public sector pay policy that resulted in government assuming responsibility for the approval of any scheme.

Outcome from the talks process facilitated by the Labour Relations Agency.rtf62.56 KB
NI FE schoolteacher pay parity business case, Department for Employment and Learning.pdf2.14 MB
Public Sector Pay Committee response to NI FE schoolteacher pay parity business case Feb 07.pdf27.24 KB