Course cut 'victimising unionists'

FE is suffering from too much high-level interference, NATFHE's leader told conference delegates. Steve Hook reports

LECTURERS claim that plans to scale down trade union studies at Southampton City College are evidence of anti-union victimisation.

The college insists the proposal is purely commercial, but the courses have been profitable and remain one of the best aspects of the college's provision, says its NATFHE branch.

The union fears the department ultimately faces closure, along with the college's personal tutor scheme - even though both areas have been praised by inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education.

Conference agreed an emergency motion saying it "condemns the recent victimisation of branch officers at Southampton City College and calls on the NEC to make urgent contact with the principal, stating that there can be no resolution to the local dispute without a formal guarantee that there will be no victimisation of the NATFHE branch officers and members".

Trade union studies take place at outreach centres including Bristol and Plymouth, in different Learning and Skills Council areas to the college itself. The college says it is merely cutting provision outside its area. "The college is concentrating on the local community," said a spokeswoman. Other colleges have found such cross-border provision has not thrived under new funding arrangements, which tend to favour local providers. But the union has branch officials who work in the trade union studies department, and it suspects they are being targeted.

The college is locked in dispute over non-implementation of last year's 3.7 per cent pay increase, which has led to eight days of strike action so far.

Colleges are able to deduct two days' pay for each day lost through strike action - and 14 days were taken from one month's salary at Southampton in relation to seven of the eight strike days.

NATFHE president Tina Downes condemned the way the deductions were timed.

She said:"This is not clever, or a sign of strong management, but it is an example of the thinking among some employers. Macho, punitive deductions must stop."

Southampton delegate Paula Coles told the conference that some staff were suffering stress-related illness.

"Individuals have ended up in hospital. I've even seen a colleague taken to the coronary unit," she said.

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