Eis is ready to use its muscle

Neil Munro reports on the worsening climate for industrial relations as pressure mounts for a return to national bargaining

UNIONS and management cannot agree even on the most basic facts of the way their college is run - such as whether staff numbers have gone up or down.

The gulf has been starkly illustrated in a survey (below) carried out by the College Lecturers' Association which reveals major differences in perception since incor-poration in 1993.

The results of the survey have led Marian Healy, further and higher education officer of the Educational Institute of Scotland to which the CLA belongs, to declare: "Incorporation has failed the staff."

There were renewed charges of deteriorating salaries, worsening conditions and bullying at the annual conference of the CLA in Edinburgh last Saturday.

Although the EIS is at loggerheads with its FE section over plans to dissolve the CLA, Sandy Fowler, the national president, came to the conference bearing gifts - although some in the audience no doubt suspected a Greek approach. Mr Fowler appeared to go further than others from the parent body in pledging to up the ante in supporting the manifold grievances of FE lecturers.

Mr Fowler told delegates: "However FE matters are dealt with in the institute, you will have the full support of the EIS as a whole in your struggle for proper funding, accountable management, fair pay, parity of esteem - and, ultimately, a return to national bargaining."

The most recent conflict between the CLA and management has arisen in Motherwell College where Douglas Nicol, the branch convener, has been demoted from senior lecturer in communications to lecturer over what the management alleges is gross misconduct.

Mr Nicol received a standing ovation at the conference and, although Richard Millham, the Motherwell principal, emphatically denies any link with his union activities, the case has all the hallmarks of becoming a cause cel bre. It has already led to a one-day strike last week and the EIS is backing a national march and rally next month.

The union is also prepared to support Mr Nicol if he takes his case to an employment tribunal, Ms Healy confirmed.

Malcolm Wilson, CLA secretary at Langside College in Glasgow, said there was "a concerted attempt" to take on the union. There was then a virtual competition among delegates over which college had the worst management.

Mr Nicol said: "The only way you get on at Motherwell College is if you are aggressively anti-EIS."

Jim O'Donovan, the CLA vice-president and branch secretary at Central College of Commerce in Glasgow, said Jeff McCracken, the CLA chairman, had been harried for three years and is off work sick as a result. Mr O'Donovan said that he himself has been falsely accused of telling one staff member to assault another.

Despite these almost surreal tensions between the two sides, many delegates such as Anne McKillop, branch convener at Edinburgh's Telford College, acknowledged that the root cause of the problem is underfunding.

Ms McKillop said Telford had been relatively well off in the past but now faced staff cuts, a "coach and horses" being driven through conditions and the prospect of an "embarrassingly poor" education for students as a result.

Referring to the recent pound;7 million subsidy to help turn around the nine colleges in the most severe financial difficulties, Ms McKillop said:

"The Government doesn't hand out pound;7 million to rescue colleges if it is funding the sector properly. This money is an acknowl-edgement that it isn't."

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