STAFF at Bury College will go on strike next week unless bosses agree to an “urgent” staff pay rise.

The University and College Union (UCU) have told college leadership to expect strike action on Wednesday, May 18, when many GCSE students will be taking an English exam.

The union have demanded a pay increase of at least 8.5 per cent in response to the cost of the living crisis.

Since 2009, pay in further education has reportedly fallen behind inflation by 35p per cent and the pay gap between school and college teachers stands at around £9,000 per year.

Staff have timed their strike to take place at the same time as students are due to sit a GCSE English exam and have warned that exams will be disrupted if the strike goes ahead.

Five other colleges across the North West will join the strike action, including at Burnley College, City of Liverpool College, Hopwood Hall, Nelson & Colne College Group and Oldham College.

The UCU expects around 900 staff to down tools and that more than 50,000 students could be affected.

On Thursday, May 19 staff will take action short of a strike, which includes working to contact, not covering staff absences or vacant posts and not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action.

Salma Bhuta, UCU Bury branch secretary, and team leader for GCSE English at the college said: "We are striking as a last resort after months of negotiations since January. We have seen a real cut in our pay in the FE sector of 21 per cent since 2009 and now we are facing a cost of living crisis with inflation at seven per cent. 

"Energy and fuel bills are going through the roof and food inflation is causing real hardship for our members and our families.

"Bury College has reserves of £14.7m and last year recorded a surplus of £2.07m.

"An eight per cent pay rise would cost them £1.52m.

"We as staff look after and work with students all year round, including throughout the difficulties of the pandemic and lockdown, risking our health to keep students going.

"The three per cent offered will leave many of us with debts and financial difficulties we can’t afford.

"The strike is the last resort, but we will no longer be silent about our own personal struggles and our need for a proper pay rise.

"We want to thank the students who are supportive of what we are doing.

"It is about the future of education too.

"Our students understand that, and together with our members we hope to leave the college with no option other than to make sure their staff are in well paid and secure jobs and able to focus on learning and not on unpaid bills." 

A Bury College spokesperson said: "The college is still talking with UCU, and has made what we believe is a very fair offer.

"We are disappointed at the planned strike action and will do all that we can to minimise the impact on learners.

"The college continues to be open to further discussion with UCU."