Trade union members at England’s biggest exam board will start a 72-hour strike over pay on Friday, raising the prospect of delays to GCSE and A-level results.
AQA said it expected 65 staff members to walk out – representing 5% of the workforce – and insisted the action would not stop results arriving on time, which is the exam board’s “priority”.
But Unison said the strike, which will run until Sunday, “could mean delays for students awaiting their GCSE and A-level results” on 25 and 18 August respectively, especially because some members have been working 12-hour days.
Unison’s regional organiser for the north-west, Lizanne Devonport, said the union would welcome talks but there had been “radio silence” from AQA.
Devonport said: “Staff don’t want to let young people down by taking strike action at such a crucial time. They appreciate how much students rely on their grades and want them to succeed.
“But workers have been left with no alternative after years of what have effectively been wage cuts. They shouldn’t be left to struggle to pay bills that are soaring as the cost-of-living crisis deepens.”
She added that “despite AQAs claims that there won’t be a knock-on effect of strike action, I can’t see how this can be the case”. She warned that unless there is an improved offer “further strike action in the short term is highly likely”, although staff will do “all they can to catch up” to minimise delays for students.
Of the 163 Unison members who were balloted, 91 voted and 65 were in favour of strike action. However Devonport said that AQA had launched individual consultations during the ballot which created “uncertainty for people”. She believes the turnout “belie[s] the strength of feeling on this” as further consultation with members after the ballot closed suggested they were “angry and upset”, and membership numbers were growing.
She called on AQA to return to discussions after many staff members said they were struggling financially, following successive below-inflation pay awards. The union, which will picket AQA’s headquarters in Manchester, said that pay had increased by just 0.6% last year.
Unison said AQA has offered a 3% pay rise this year, which AQA disputes, saying it is giving an average pay rise of 5.6% “that is affordable and higher than many organisations”, once a £500 pro-rata payment and incremental increase for staff not at the top of their pay grades are factored in on top of the 3%.
This is the biggest pay increase for several decades, the exam board said.
Unison said AQA’s offer represented a “real-terms pay cut” given that inflation is running at 9.1%. The union said workers have been warned they could be sacked and rehired on different contracts if they don’t accept the offer.
An AQA spokesperson said: “Our priority is always to make sure students get the results they deserve on time, and we have robust plans in place to make sure strike action won’t affect that. It’s a shame that Unison is claiming otherwise, as this is wrong and only serves needlessly to alarm students and teachers.”
The spokesperson said fewer than half of Unison members at AQA had voted to strike, representing about 5% of a workforce of 1,200.
“It’s disappointing that Unison has decided to take strike action. The vast majority of our staff don’t support a strike,” the spokesperson said.
“Unison is trying to disrupt the meetings that take place to agree grade boundaries for students, but most of these have already finished and the rest are on track to finish next week regardless of the strike.”
They added that the new contracts were part of a “new and fairer pay framework” introduced in response to staff dissatisfaction which “provides employees with a greater opportunity to grow their pay over time”, and that AQA hadn’t yet decided what to do in the event of staff opting out.