UK’s biggest exam board AQA failing on pay

AQA workers being balloted over low pay and new contracts

Pupils across the UK could face delays in receiving ​their GCSE and A-Level results if exam board AQA fails to improve its pay offer to staff, UNISON​ is warning today (Friday).

​Around 160 AQA staff, including those who arrange the setting and marking of exam papers and issue results, are being balloted for strike action after years of below-inflation ​wage rises. Last year the workforce received a paltry 0.6% pay increase, says the union.

​The workers have already rejected a 3% ​offer, which ​the employer was only prepared to pay if the unions (UNISON and Unite) agreed to bring wage talks to an end.

Staff are calling for an increase that keeps pace with the rising cost of living and which makes up for the many years that their pay fell way short of inflation.

Talks to try to resolve the dispute have already taken place at conciliation service ACAS. But UNISON says AQA failed to bring anything new to the table​.

Senior managers at the exam board have also angered workers by ​asking them to sign new contracts, which includes the low pay rise UNISON has rejected. ​AQA has told its workforce that it will consider ​using fire and rehire tactics to force ​through the changes.​

Pupils sitting GCSE English and maths papers would be among those affected by any delays in results if ​the strikes go ahead, says UNISON.

One ​AQA worker said: “This is the first time ​staff have ever done anything like this. Many of us have done our jobs for a long time and are dedicated to public service. ​

​”Exam board employees work miracles silently in the background to ensure results are issued on time year after year. But ​we’ve reached the point where enough is enough​.”

Another said: “AQA ​says social mobility is at the heart of its charitable purpose. However, it’s content to watch its loyal, long-serving employees fall further and further behind on pay to the point where some of us are struggling to survive. AQA is most definitely failing when it comes to staff pay.”

UNISON North West regional organiser Lizanne Devonport said: “AQA is ​letting down not just its staff ​but pupils ​too by holding down pay.

“Rather than using its cash reserves to help ​employees cope with the spiralling cost of living, it’s provoked an unprecedented strike ballot.

“No one wants to cause disruption to students and teachers in the first summer back in exam halls since the pandemic, but ​the employees ​feel like they’ve been left with no choice. AQA must come back to the negotiating table​, make a serious offer ​and stop threatening its dedicated staff.”

Notes to editors:
– The ballot opened on Monday 13 June and runs until Monday 27 June. Staff have already voted to take action in an earlier consultative ballot. If they vote ‘yes’ again, strike action will take place at the height of the exam marking period ​in July.
– AQA staff are based in two offices in Guildford and Manchester.​
– In a recent survey of AQA staff, a quarter (27%) say they ​are unable to pay ​their household bills and 18% are looking for ​second jobs just to make ends meet. More than a third (36%) are ​either considering​ or have already taken out loans just to cover basic household expenses, while one in eight (12%) are skipping meals because they can’t afford to eat.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.