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Employers may support call for school pay parity

Six unions representing the overwhelming majority of managers, lecturers and support staff in colleges have submitted a joint pay claim with a demand for parity with teachers by 2004.

The claim was submitted to the Association of Colleges on the day that the unions started a five-day strike at Southampton City College over the corporation's refusal to pay last year's 3.7 per cent award.

The claim includes a minimum pound;11,000 starting salary for support staff, shorter pay scales to enable staff to reach the top sooner and national pay scales for all colleges.

The unions are also asking for a London allowance of pound;4,000. Their claim follows earlier demands from the college lecturers' union NATFHE for a pound;3,000 flat-rate pay rise.

Barry Lovejoy, national FE official for NATFHE, said already thousands of lecturers' and managers' jobs went unfilled each year because of "pitifully low" pay. "Yet the Government still piles the pressure on - with new demands to provide opportunities for 14 to 19-year-olds and basic skills for adults."

Peter Pendle, general secretary of the Association for College Management, said there had to be an unequivocal guarantee from ministers of meeting the 2004 deadline.

"From the union perspective, any settlement that gives FE employees less than school and higher education teachers would be totally unacceptable," he added.

And Christina McAnea, negotiating officer for public services union Unison, representing support staff, said that a Labour government had a moral duty to pay such staff a living wage.

"This will be a critical year for our members in FE. The average pay for support staff is around pound;13,000 a year, but 20 per cent earn less than pound;10,000. They cannot live on this pay and that is one reason why turnover among this group is as high as 20 per cent."

Recent AOC research showed that colleges were having to pay thousands to recruit in key areas such as student support, finance, IT, catering and administration.

Ivor Jones, AOC director of employment policy, would make no detailed response to the pay claim this week other than to say: "We have taken note of the claim." But the association is known to look more favourably than before on the unions' call for parity with schools.

NATFHE has already said it intends to ballot members for industrial action if the AOC fails to make a satisfactory offer at the national joint forum meeting meeting on April 16. Much will depend on the outcome of Chancellor Gordon Brown's comprehensive spending review, to be announced later in the year.

The six unions are NATFHE, Unison, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the Transport and General Workers' union, the GMB (Britain's General Union) and the Association of College Managers.

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