Hours anger scuppers peace

Hopes of an end to the five-year dispute over college contracts were dashed this week when a draft agreement between the employers and lecturers was overwhelmingly rejected by the biggest union, NATFHE.

An FE sector conference in London tomorrow is expected to reject the proposed Pounds 30,000 ballot of members over acceptance of the deal. It is likely to press instead for a ballot on action, starting with a five-day national strike in December.

Ten of the 12 NATFHE regional councils in England and Wales rejected the deal outright amid considerable anger over working hours. Many at branch meetings reported working weeks in excess of 50 hours, including up to 29 hours of teaching.

Paul Mackney, the general secretary, was busy lobbying ministers at the Labour party conference in Blackpool, to pressure employers for firmer guarantees against exploitation. Further and higher education minister Baroness Blackstone had already written to the Association of Colleges saying she wanted an end to "confrontational management style".

The draft agreement proposes a limit of 27 teaching hours. But branches reported widespread cynicism over pledged safeguards. The question of hours was the biggest barrier to a settlement.

Mr Mackney told The TES: "Our members want to help the Government's lifelong learning proposals but they feel they have had just about enough."

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