COLLEGE unions and employers this week demanded that ministers find the cash to match the 5.5 per cent pay deal accepted by civil servants in the Department for Education and Skills.
The deal guarantees a minimum of 4 per cent but gives the majority 4.7 to 9 per cent. The controversial performance-related pay element has also been cut to a minimum after ministers agreed that it penalised staff on lower grades.
The Public and Commercial Services Union will today announce overwhelming acceptance of the package in a ballot of members. A big breakthrough was official recognition that PRP was not working, Nelly Takla-Wright, PCS national officer, told FE Focus.
"Statistical evidence proves that those who lose out are ethnic minorities, women on higher grades, the disabled and part-timers."
The size of the settlement is seen as a new benchmark by the Association of Colleges, lecturers' union NATFHE and the Association for College Management - but not without more cash from the Government. The pay offer in general FE colleges is still only 2.3 per cent.
Des O'Hare, AOC employee relations manager, said: "It is good news for DFES staff that the Government recognises that a fair pay settlement helps to retain good people and ensure professionalism."
College staff deserved the same, he added. But inadequate core funding levels made it "impossible" to match such awards.
The unions demanded a meeting with ministers to discuss pay following Chancellor Gordon Brown's comprehensive spending review in June.
Paul Mackney, general secretary of NATFHE, said that the civil service settlement should embarrass ministers. "There is not only this year's pay offer but parity with schoolteachers. The employers still say they are committed to it and so did ministers. That is why we accepted the last-minute 0.3 per cent extra last year.
"Whilst all the unions are now gearing up for industrial action this autumn, we hope the Government will be able to assist employers in making a better offer."
Peter Pendle, general secretary of the ACM, said: "This sets a benchmark for the DFES and employers to aim towards in terms of the quality of people in FE."
Ministers will inevitably come under pressure from both the employers and unions when they meet next month. All signals are of a mood to raise public-sector pay, said Mr Mackney.
Prior to the civil service settlement, non-education local authority workers agreed a deal giving 4 per cent this year and 3.5 per cent next year - at a time of continued low inflation. Also, rises were skewed in favour of the low paid to ensure that no one gets less than pound;5 an hour.
In higher education, too, a complicated deal gives a basic 3.5 per cent settlement. Many lower-paid staff will get considerably more, as the pay scales for the old and new universities are being merged in line with recommendations in the official Bett inquiry into pay.
Employers and unions in FE are still angry that Education Secretary Estelle Morris failed to announce promised new measures on pay earlier this summer.