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Colleges split over forum for pay talks

A split over pay and conditions for further education support staff has led five colleges to take the highly unusual step of requisitioning a special meeting of the Association of Scottish Colleges, to be held next Wednesday.

The move reflects unease over the employers' decision in February to end national negotiations for support staff, in line with a move to local bargaining for lecturers.

Eileen Mochar, who chairs the board at Langside College in Glasgow and is a solicitor in the city, is one of those behind the call for the meeting. Mrs Mochar said this week that it would be "inappropriate" to comment in advance of next week's meeting.

The move to college-based negotiations, which affects 5,000 administrative, technical and manual employees of the 43 incorporated colleges, seemed inevitable after the national negotiating machinery for academic staff broke down. But its legality was challenged at the time by Unison, the union that represents the majority of support staff.

Tom Kelly, the association's chief executive, said his board regarded the meeting on Wednesday as an attempt to clear the air. "There was a feeling that the decision in February was not soundly based, but that was more to do with the way it was arrived at rather than the decision itself," Mr Kelly said. "Our board's recommendation will be to confirm the move to local bargaining and to put the decision beyond doubt."

College managers are scheduled to meet the staff side on July 31 when the unions will press for a response to their 5 per cent pay claim for this year, the final national settlement before the existing procedures are swept away at the end of August. The management's stance will not be confirmed until after next week's special meting.

Sam Brunton, one of the Unison leaders on the staff side, said the unions also wanted to clear the air. Mr Brunton, a librarian at Coatbridge College, added that they would be happy to go along with local bargaining if that was confirmed as the view of the majority of employers. "Some colleges do not appear to be happy with the February decision," he said, "or at least that is what they are telling us."

* Shetland College has run up a deficit of Pounds 150,000, it emerged this week. A full report on what action is needed to reduce overspending will not be taken until September. Gordon Dargie, the principal, is on holiday. The threat of redundancies at the college, which was highlighted at this year's annual conference of the Educational Institute of Scotland, has not yet been removed.

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