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Court halts strike over agency

Managers at a Lancashire college this week used an injunction to stop a strike by lecturing union members planned to coincide with inspection. Accrington and Rossendale College secured the High Court order on the grounds that a ballot held by the college's NATFHE branch was invalid.

Union members had hoped to disrupt an inspection to add extra weight to their protest at the college's transfer of all its part-time staff to the lecturing agency Education Lecturing Services.

Over the summer, 340 part-timers who had had contracts with the college during 1995-6 were effectively sacked. They were told they would not be re-engaged this year unless they signed up with ELS.

The militant NATFHE branch at Accrington and Rossendale launched a "Save our College" campaign to highlight its opposition to the change, holding town centre protests, launching a petition and balloting for strike action.

However, though the vote went in favour of a strike, technical errors in the notification of the action to college managers left the way open for a legal challenge. A list of members NATFHE intended to ballot included names of staff no longer working at the college yet failed to include some individuals the union planned to call out on strike.

Branch secretary Pat Walsh said recruitment of new members just before the ballot had caused some of the problems. He claimed the introduction of ELS had been a "disaster", with some classes left without a teacher as the agency failed to supply the right staff.

The union had sought talks with management over its concerns, but had been turned down, he said. It was still in dispute, but hoped to secure negotiations rather than ballot again for action.

College principal Mike Austin claimed only a minority of union members had wanted to strike in inspection week and said the college does not have the money for new employment rights for part-timers and had to move to an agency.

Mr Austin said: "As you expect with a major change like this there has been the odd difficulty from time to time but the agency is working extremely hard to minimise this."

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