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Action carries on to fourth week

Mark Whitehead follows the stand-off in Southwark

An indefinite strike by lecturers at Southwark college in south London is approaching its fourth week in a stand-off over a Pounds 1.5 million cuts package.

NATFHE leaders claim management has refused to make concessions over the package which, it says, would involve a loss of jobs equivalent to 60 full-time staff, changes in contracts, new managerial posts and the use of an employment agency to hire part-time staff.

College principal Dorothy Jones accuses the union of walking out before the savings were discussed in an attempt to show it has the upper hand. She said two out of the college's five sites were working almost normally.

On Saturday, 400 NATFHE members delivered a letter to 10 Downing Street asking the new prime minister Tony Blair to order a review of FE funding.

The union claims that it has overwhelming support and blames the college management for the continuing strike. It says figures on a cash shortfall in the college budget have been plucked out of the air and that managers have made no attempt to negotiate a settlement.

Southwark NATFHE secretary Steven Rose said: "All we're trying to do is defend further education. Other disputes like this have been settled, but the management here has made no attempt to do so."

Principal Dorothy Jones said she had to make inroads into a Pounds 3.6 million budget deficit and a further Pounds 1.15m cut in Government funding. She added the college also faces the loss of a further Pounds 3m in central funding over the next three years.

"The union went out on strike at the earliest opportunity to try to make it clear they have the upper hand," she said.

"It is a very unfortunate way of working alongside management to avoid compulsory redundancies.

"In the interests of the students, NATFHE should come back and work things out with management, not stay outside shouting from a picket line."

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