Yoga, aerobics and Pilates instructors at Colchester City Council are voting on strike action after nearly a decade without a pay rise, UNISON has announced.
The Leisure World instructors are all directly employed by the council, but their pay is determined differently to the scales used for other staff at the local authority.
UNISON says inflexible bosses have kept yoga and Pilates rates at £25 per-session since 2015, refusing to even review this figure until last year.
When the council did finally assess pay in August 2023, senior managers offered no rise at all, says the union.
Aerobics instructors are paid £22.50 per session. Following the review, they rejected an offer of an extra £2.50, saying it fell a long way behind the levels paid to instructors for private training sessions, and was still nearly £5 lower than neighbouring Tendring Council.
Instructors say the rate fails to recognise the long stretches of time they put into preparing classes. They say the time it takes to learn and devise routines, set up, clear up and answer queries from participants after sessions, means upwards of two hours’ work goes into each hour-long session.
Workers have been left with no choice but to vote on strikes, says UNISON.
Melinda (pictured above, outside Leisure World) has been an aerobics instructor at the council for the last nine years, said: “All the instructors give 100% — we get there early and stay late.
“As a council worker, every other employee has had a pay rise and we’re completely ignored. It’s like we don’t exist. We don’t get reviewed. It’s like they’ve forgotten us.
“There are some instructors who work in the gym as personal trainers. They’ve had a pay rise every year for that, but when they come to teach a class, it’s been the same pay for 10 years.
“That 10 years is a long time – how much has the cost of living gone up? It’s completely unfair when everyone else in the building has had a pay rise.
“We’re the face of Leisure World, we keep thousands of people coming back. It’s time we were recognised for it.”
Yoga instructor Arlene, who has worked for Colchester Council since 2016, said: “It’s a wonderful community at Leisure World and the people taking classes are so supportive of each other.
“But I don’t even reach the minimum wage for the classes I teach, with all the preparation that goes into them.
“It doesn’t feel like we’re even considered to be working for the council. They’ve never increased the market rate. Everyone else in the building gets a pay rise but we’re forgotten.”
UNISON Eastern area organiser Emma Aboubaker said: “Instructors are bending over backwards to provide the best service they can for people trying to get fit and healthy in Colchester. But bosses can’t stretch to more than one pay rise a decade.
“Fitness instructors provide a vital service for the city’s public health, but they’re also bringing paying residents into leisure centres. They deserve a proper pay rise.”