TEACHERS at a Richmond college will strike all week in protest over “deplorable” plans to “fire and rehire” staff on new contracts with less holiday.

Members of the University and College Union at Richmond upon Thames College are planning to strike until Friday. 

The action comes after the college proposed sack all teaching staff and rehire them on contracts with eight fewer days holiday. 

The proposals would see teachers’ annual leave cut from 64 days to 56 – including bank holidays.

The union claims the changes could affect 127 teachers, but the college claims the number is lower, since management gave notice of the proposals in March.

UCU members rally outside Richmond upon Thames College on 23 May. Credit: UCU

UCU members rally outside Richmond upon Thames College on 23 May. Credit: UCU

It says some staff are on fixed-term contracts which “may or may not be required depending on student numbers for next year”.

The college claims the move is needed to give staff more training days. It called plans to dismiss and rehire staff a “worst case scenario” and a “standard element of the contract re-negotiation process”. 

The college is now holding meetings with staff after negotiations ended on May 10. It says some staff have accepted the new contracts “on a voluntary basis” and that no dismissal letters have been sent so far.

Union bosses have slammed the move as “deplorable”. They want the college to withdraw the threat of firings and proposed changes to teachers’ contracts. They say staff feel “broken”, with many looking to quit. 

Teachers will be protesting outside the college every morning this week. The action follows a ballot of UCU members where 97 per cent of those who responded voted to strike and 100 per cent voted for action short of strike. This means teachers could refuse to cover colleagues and not reschedule classes after the strike. They could also boycott assessments. 

Adam Lincoln, UCU regional official, called the plans a “mark of shame for the entire college”. He said: “Today’s strike shows that staff will not allow management to fire them and rehire them on worse terms. Fire and rehire is a sickening tactic used by some of the UK’s worst employers and Richmond upon Thames College’s management needs to treat staff with the dignity they deserve.”

Jo Grady, general secretary at UCU, said the college’s behaviour was “deplorable” and would be met “with the full force of our union”. She said staff are going “absolutely nowhere”. 

“Fire and rehire” is when an employer dismisses and rehires a worker on different – usually worse – terms. The government blocked legislation by Labour MP Barry Gardiner to ban the strategy in October 2021. 

Mr Gardiner, MP for Brent North, slammed the practice as a “disgrace” after learning about the proposals from Richmond upon Thames College. He said: “Ultimately the ballot has taken place, they will be taking strike action to protect their jobs and their terms and conditions. Good luck to them I say. The college has to back down.”

In a statement, the college said it was “hugely disappointed” to see strike action go ahead and that it is working to “minimise disruption” for its 3,600 students. It said UCU represents less than 50 per cent of the college’s teaching staff. 

The statement said: “The college needs to have a new calendar in place for the new academic year to ensure that there is more time for teachers to have INSET days outside the teaching timetable to develop their practice, meet as teams and focus on the individual needs of the students and plan and organise their work.

“RuTC is currently a significant outlier within the FE sector, with the current very high levels of annual leave entitlement preventing us from being able to allocate specific non-teaching days for staff training, development, collaboration and support for students.”

It added: “The college has demonstrated a consistent and genuine desire to negotiate on the overall package of benefits including pay and levels of annual leave and has confirmed the offer of 100% financial compensation (consolidated) for the net reduction in annual leave. This offer financially compensates and recognises the work that teaching staff regularly carry out during holiday times. In addition, it enables staff to take time back on designated non-teaching days in recognition of additional work carried out during term time.”