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Anger at pay hold-up;Further Education

Unions have accused Tower Hamlets council of withholding back-pay as part of a strategy to push through the overhaul of its adult education service. Jack Breeze reports

LECTURERS in London's Tower Hamlets are still awaiting pay dating back to 1994, The TES has been told.

Adult education lecturers in the borough have had cost-of-living payments withheld, even though all other employees within the council - including senior managers in the adult education service - have received the payments. It is estimated that a basic-grade lecturer may be out of pocket by between pound;300 and pound;1500 a year.

Meanwhile, other lecturers who took on extra responsibilities as heads of department on a "good faith" basis, while protracted pay and conditions talks continued, have still not been paid for their extra duties. Union officials say these staff are owed up to pound;100 a year.

Earlier this year a report was prepared by heads of the service, recommending that the lecturers be finally reimbursed. It was due to be presented to a council "cabinet" meeting on August 4 but was withdrawn at the eleventh-hour on instructions from the education directorate.

When asked by The TES, a council spokesman would not comment on why it had performed this sudden U-turn. He said: "We are now hopeful that agreement will be reached and this issue finalised by the end of the year".

But lecturers' representatives are now furious at what they see as the authority's underhand tactics. In particular, they have been angered by the alleged use of back-pay as a bargaining chip in negotiations to introduce a new "lifelong learning" structure, which will replace the existing adult education service.

"The whole process has been chaotic," said Nova Gresham, regional officer for lecturers' union NATFHE. "We have presented our objections repeatedly and never even had a reply. The authority has reneged on agreements time and time again and now some of our members are facing redundancies based on salaries that are five years out of date."

The council's restructured adult education service will require all staff to sign up to new contracts and revised job descriptions.

Jean Geldhart, branch secretary of Unison in Tower Hamlets, which represents administrative support staff in the service, said: "We have experienced the same unhelpful treatment from the authority (as lecturers). While the heads of the service have expressed a willingness to see the reorganisation through as quickly as possible, we still have no idea what is happening to our members." She added: "I believe the issue of lecturers' back-pay has been used as an underhand bargaining lever."

But Tower Hamlets council denies it has refused to co-operate with the unions, or that it has treated its adult education staff unreasonably.

"The fact that the council has carried cost-of-living payments over while negotiations have continued is testimony to our commitment to meeting our obligations to staff," said a spokesman for the authority. He added: "When agreement is reached, payments will be backdated for all staff who are entitled to them."

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