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Lay-off dispute sours relations;FE Focus

A bitter dispute has broken out between employers and unions at the college which once blazed a trail for labour relations.

The lecturers' union NATFHE and management at Manchester College of Arts and Technology have been at loggerheads since four members of staff were laid off last year. The union claims they were not consulted over changes in redundancy arrangements which they say have previously given staff 12 months' notice.

Two lecturers were issued with written warnings after handing out leaflets publicising a one-day strike over the issue last week, which led to management accusations of secondary picketing. The next day, the college announced it would be closing its trade union education centre in Stockport where the lecturers work. Now both sides are accusing each other of refusing to negotiate.

Such poor relations are a far cry from the halcyon days of 1994 when the college became the first to negotiate a deal with NATFHE following incorporation, and former principal Nye Rowlands shook hands with the then NATFHE general secretary John Akker at the union's conference.

The union claims management is victimising its members, who have been banned from using college facilities for union business. A number of cases alleging unfair dismissal and breach of contract are being prepared by NATFHE.

North-west regional official Colin Gledhill said: "The centre is a success story. It recently passed an audit of its student and income records with flying colours."

Vice-principal Barbara Forshaw said that the centre was being closed because the lease was about to expire and the change in redundancy terms had been prompted by financial concerns.

"There have been efforts by management to negotiate an appropriate redundancy procedure but they have failed."

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