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Agency staff win Blunkett's sympathy

THE biggest supplier of agency college lecturers is in talks with a union to introduce a pension scheme for part-timers.

Richard Eve, executive director of Nottingham-based Education Lecturing Services, is drafting plans with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. If successful, the scheme would be open to non-ATL members. An estimated 12,000 lecturers are employed through agencies. They lack the same employment rights as college staff, including access to the teacher pension scheme.

A spokesman for the ATL said they were "confident that something good will come out of these (pensions) discussions."

However, David Blunkett, in one of his last acts as Education Secretary, wrote to lecturers' union NATFHE to express Government sympathy for agency staff. He said talks were underway aimed at solving the problems.

"The talks are at an early stage but the DFEE is aware of what we are trying to do. The fact is that the teachers' scheme which NATFHE wants agency staff to benefit from is geared to full-timers and is not a good deal for part-timers," said Mr Blunkett.

Hi letter comes as the European courts consider the case of Debra Allonby, a lecturer who lost her job at Accrington and Rossendale College, and was then taken on again through ELS. She claims she should retain her employment rights, including a pension.

Mr Blunkett's intervention comes after Paul Mackney, NATFHE general secretary, threatened a flood of Allonby-type court cases. He told Mr Blunkett that the Government should find a political solution rather than become involved in a drawn-out court process.

In his letter, Mr Blunkett said: "I would hope that we will be able to find an earlier solution that makes such a course of action unnecessary." The letter has been welcomed by NATFHE as a "positive response." Mr Mackney said: "Agency lecturers want that as well. Giving them the same pension rights as other teachers will enable them to do this."

The ATL insists that, with ELS, it can find the solution. "This would be a pension deal to add value to ATL membership," a spokesman said. "But it would not just be for our members. We want to see all lecturers benefit."

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