Consider alternatives in the wake of lecturers' contract dispute

Whatever the implication(s) of the tribunal decision on the dispute at Chippenham College (TES, August 9 and 23), it is not that lecturers "must now face the possibility of instant dismissal". As always the strength of employers' hands in pressing for "flexible" contracts will depend on the circumstances facing individual colleges at the relevant time. Funding or employee relations pressures may be fairly widely or specifically felt, and may not result in the same "business need" package that so influenced the tribunal.

Nor can it be automatically concluded that further initiatives to increase flexibility (that is, worsen conditions of service) would meet with the same tribunal response. Much has been made of the tribunal view that there was nothing unreasonable in the idea of making small savings. But this was in the context of a contribution to a larger required whole. The employers' response to business need must be proportionate and reasonable in the circumstances.

The most likely consequence of the tribunal's conclusions will be in the (re)formulation by the respective parties of their strategiclong-term approach to pay and condition issues. There is really no substitute for a clear, well-planned approach that argues quite publicly the business need. Failure (by either party to address effectively the need for discussion, change and compromise over a reasonable period will not be helpful to their cause. Similarly, failure to permit bargaining at the local level.

Of concern to both parties must be the increasing transparency of external influence through funding, and other pressure, on perceptions of the internal relationships required within employing organisations. Not only does this diffuse clarity over control of the bargaining relationship, but it will reduce the scope for diversity and voluntary co-operation that once seemed appropriate for growth and adaption.

The time seems ripe to consider alternative models based on mutual interest and co-operation, rather than mutual disadvantage and conflict.

PETER TAYLOR The People Factor 44 Brighowgate Grimsby, Lincolnshire

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