Members of the Association of Colleges (AoC) are being consulted on whether the body should abandon national pay bargaining.
Colleges are being asked if they are satisfied with the current national negotiation procedures, and whether the AoC should continue with them. At present, the AoC represents its members in negotiations with the unions representing FE staff – the University and College Union (UCU), ATL, Unison, GMB and Unite. If an agreement is struck, it is then down to individual colleges to decide whether to implement it.
According to the UCU, in 2014-15, just a third of colleges implemented the pay rise negotiated by the AoC on their behalf.
The question about the future of national bargaining in FE is being asked as part of the AoC's internal review, which includes plans to overhaul its regional structure and membership fees with the aim of tackling a projected £1 million overspend in its budget for 2017-18. The consultation will last until 3 March.
AoC chief executive David Hughes told TES: “Members have said they want us to spend more time on developing leading thinking ahead of policy changes."
‘We want effective national bargaining’, unions tell colleges
The consultation comes after the unions and the AoC agreed a 1 per cent pay rise for college staff for 2016-17. The previous year, the AoC did not offer a pay rise on behalf of its member colleges, triggering two national one-day strikes involving the UCU and Unison.
Andrew Harden, UCU's head of further education, said: "UCU remains committed to national bargaining, but that commitment must be shared by colleges. We want proper and effective national bargaining where colleges abide by what is agreed at a national level."
Ruth Levin, further education national officer at Unison, said: "The AoC should be encouraging all colleges to be part of a national pay bargaining framework. This is the most efficient and effective way to deliver for colleges and their staff. Unions are confident colleges will want to remain part of a national dialogue and that there will be constructive and meaningful negotiations this year, and in coming years."
But Ian Pryce, principal at Bedford College, told TES it was time for change. "We have a bizarre system where a membership body negotiates non-binding recommendations to about 350 colleges of wildly different financial strength," he said. "A membership body cannot risk upsetting members and will only agree pay awards that are satisfactory to the vast majority of the membership, so well below what the 'average' member might afford.
"There is no incentive to break ranks and pay more. Unions are equally locked into a 'one rise for all' mentality so don't expect it. If we break ranks, we risk it being used against our colleague principals."