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James Watt lecturers poised to walk out

David Henderson reports from the education debates at the STUC in Perth

Some 730 lecturers at James Watt College in Greenock this week began voting in a strike ballot with the full support of the STUC behind them.

All-out action could begin in a little over two weeks once the Educational Institute of Scotland follows employment procedures.

The STUC gave its support to an EIS emergency motion condemning college plans to sack more than 100 (or 70 full-time equivalent) academic staff and unilaterally change conditions of service of all remaining lecturers who would be dismissed and then redeployed.

Staff are well paid in comparison to others in the sector but face more teaching in more flexible patterns under what the union claims are "inferior conditions".

The college has already issued statutory 90-day notices which would mean redundancies at the end of term in mid-June.

Kirsty Devaney, incoming EIS vice-president, and an FE lecturer in Dundee, told congress that difficulties at James Watt began around five years ago but that a pound;2 million deficit had been cleared. Staff were suddenly told last month of the redundancies and changes to conditions of service "all because the principal (Bill Wardle) wants a pound;2 million surplus in each of the next two years for unforeseen circumstances".

Mrs Devaney said: "He has just walked away from any kind of meaningful negotiations." The union had been fully involved in measures to get the college back on its feet and was staggered by the principal's response.

Mrs Devaney blames a history of poor industrial relations in the sector on the scrapping of national bargaining on pay and conditions following incorporation in 1993.

The EIS, with STUC support, is urging Nicol Stephen, Lifelong Learning Minister, to launch an inquiry into how the principal and board run the college.

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