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Lambeth College row continues as UCU rejects new offer

A bitter trade dispute at a London college looks set to continue after trade union members rejected new proposals to bring the row to an end.

More than 100 members of the University and College Union (UCU) at Lambeth College took part in a month of industrial action last term in a long-running row over changes to staff contracts.

Last week the college put forward two proposals to break the deadlock, but this week members of the UCU voted overwhelmingly to reject both and are now seeking approval to ballot for fresh industrial action.

Lambeth College introduced new contracts for staff starting after 1 April, which it said were necessary to bring about modernisation and help it reduce its “unsustainable” budget deficit of £3.5 million.

The college said there were no plans to introduce the contracts for existing staff.

However, the UCU claimed the move would leave new staff with bigger workloads, less sick pay and fewer holidays.

As a result its members took industrial action, manning picket lines for five weeks between June and July in the longest strike in the union’s history.

Last week Lambeth offered a choice of two new options: to protect all existing conditions until September 2017, or immediate payment of £750 (pro-rata) and another £750 (pro-rata) in September 2016 with protection of all existing conditions until September 2016.

In both options the proposed increase in weekly and annual teaching hours would still take effect in September 2015.

However, some 92 per cent of UCU members voted against the options, although on a turnout of less than 55 per cent.

A spokesman for the union said: “We hope the college recognises the strength of feeling among staff and agrees to fresh talks aimed at resolving the outstanding issues.”

Lambeth College principal Mark Silverman said: “Obviously we are disappointed. The options we proposed were fair, harmonised the two contracts that the UCU branch opposed, and provided Lambeth College with a contract that would support the flexible needs of learners and protect the financial viability and long-term sustainability of the college.

"Sadly it’s clear that there is a small minority of staff who seem determined to see the college fail, and have little regard for our learners and communities who deserve an outstanding college.”

The UCU has also accused Lambeth of attempting to disrupt future strike action after it emerged it has used an employment agency to recruit temporary tutors.

A spokesman for the college told TES it worked with a number of providers to cover lessons during the previous industrial action.

“We’re determined to prevent any industrial action impacting on our learners,” the spokesman added.

“We are therefore taking proactive action now to make contingency arrangements for temporary cover for lessons if required.”

A UCU spokesman said: “The fact that Lambeth College wants to spend money on strike breakers in advance of a ballot on strike action speaks volumes about its priorities. The door remains open on our side for negotiations despite the college’s hardline and shameful behaviour.”

Related stories

Lambeth College strikers return to work, but war of words continues – July 2014

Strike action looms at Lambeth College in row over staff contracts - May 2014

Lambeth College staff plan 'indefinite' strike action - May 2014

Lambeth college defends principal's pay rise amid staff strike over working conditions - June 2014

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