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All out over holiday cuts

Lecturers set for indefinite strike over college bid to reduce days off in return for one-off payout. Steve Hook reports

Lecturers are to strike indefinitely over a college's bid to cut their holidays.

Leicester college wants lecturers to give up four days of holiday for a one-off pound;1,800 payment to allow for staff development and paperwork, including lesson-planning, without affecting the teaching timetable.

The college claims 100 staff have opted for the new contract, which has already been introduced on a voluntary basis.

Lecturers who join the college must accept the new terms, which came into effect in August, but the old contract remains in place for existing staff who refuse to opt in.

Members of Natfhe, the lecturers' union, voted for an all-out strike from Monday.

Marianne Harris-Bridge, director of corporate affairs at the college, said:

"The college will take all appropriate measures to ensure that our students receive the learning experience that they are promised, regardless of these attempts at disruption."

But she admitted the college has "no way of knowing" how many staff will refuse to work or what proportion of lecturers in the dispute are full-time. Leicester college, one of the 10 largest in England, with 42,000 students, says the extra days will be used for "staff development, team work and skills development."

The college says Natfhe has refused to negotiate, either directly or through independent arbitration. But the union says it has already demonstrated that the loss of holiday, presently 48 days, is unnecessary.

And Natfhe fears the new contract will remove the restriction on how many Saturdays lecturers can be made to work. The college originally proposed removing eight days of holiday but this was reduced to four last year under pressure from the union.

Natfhe says, even if more working days were justified, the college should reflect this in lecturers' salaries rather than making a one-off payment.

Russ Escritt, Natfhe regional official, said 286 staff were balloted and, of the 160 who voted, 120 were in favour of an all-out strike.

While the college points out that only a minority of its lecturers have voted for the action, the union regards the vote as overwhelming and based on a high turn-out compared with other disputes.

Mr Escritt said: "Natfhe's members are outraged that the college is changing conditions of service without having negotiated them with their union. "Natfhe's officers demonstrated to management how it was possible to fit in the training days they required within the current working days.

"Lecturers do not want to disrupt the education of their students but feel that they have no choice but to take action in order to defend their union and their working conditions.

"Our members are determined to stay out until the college are prepared to try to resolve things."

The college is based on four campuses in Leicester, each within 1.5 miles of the city centre.

It is among those which paid the most-recent 3.5 per cent pay deal in full but Natfhe says this is undermined by the new contracts because the amount of pay per day worked will have been reduced again.

The union warned last month that an indefinite strike was possible.

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