The Association of Colleges, which has so far reserved its position, in the face of weighty union claims, has concentrated its ire on the largest one, NATFHE.
Sue Dutton, deputy chief executive of the AOC, said: "NATFHE have gone out on their own this time with regard to the pay claim they have presented to the association. It has put in a separate claim from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, and that is not helpful. They have also, again, put in separate claims for lecturers and the management spine.
"It is disappointing that NATFHE seems to be trying to continue the policy of retaining the Silver Book when over 90 per cent of staff are now on new professional contracts.
"This is a policy of a union which only represents 10 per cent of its membership. I would question how the other 90 per cent of people on new contracts are going to be represented," she said.
NATFHE has submitted a claim for lecturers and senior lecturers of a flat rate increase of Pounds 30 a week. It wants a weekly teaching load kept to 21 hours per week and a maximum working week of 30 hours.
Its research had shown that half of FE lecturers were paid between Pounds 20,000 and Pounds 24,999, with another 40 per cent below Pounds 20,000. They contrast this with teachers, 70 per cent of whom earned between Pounds 20,901 and Pounds 27,084.
They argued that "there must now be a real concern that FE college lecturers will increasingly be tempted to deploy their talents in schools rather than colleges. Evidence of the drop in the number of student teachers support the theory that there is a looming crisis of recruitment in schools."
Sue Berryman, NATFHE negotiator, said: ""Our claim is justifiable given what lecturers have been through in the last three years. Even the funding council inspectorate have pointed to the low morale among staff. Sensible employers must recognise that open-ended contracts are not the best way of delivering teaching effectively." She said 160 colleges had locally negotiated contracts and some 200 had had contracts imposed.
The Association for College Management has called for a flat pay award of 5 per cent on all points on the management spine, and wants a review of workload and rewards of all staff.
Ms Dutton, of the AOC, said it would seek realistic deals in the context of the economic situation. They would try to achieve the best they could for staff, against the backcloth of continuing funding depreciation. But they would be linked to the ability of employers to pay.