LECTURERS in many general FE colleges are preparing for industrial action to achieve "any semblance" of the nationally agreed annual pay settlement.
The 3.3 per cent increase, which was agreed from September 1 2000, is far from being universally awarded, with a proportion of colleges witholding the increase and blaming poor or unpredictable finances.
Lecturers' union NATFHE wrote to 82 colleges which it says have not made the award, although the Association of Colleges says about half of these have in fact settled.
Non-paying colleges typically blame uncertainty over student enrolment and the funding system, although some of these are since reported to have made the payments.
Significantly, the union, which had already warned that industrial action could result locally, is now actively advising its branches to consider balloting their members if the money is not forthoming.
While Malcom Wicks, the lifelong learning minister, says the increase has been funded and expressed concern about its patchy delivery, he is at pains to stress that colleges, and not Government, are the employers.
Paul Mackney, NATFHE's general secretary, said: "What other service in the public sector agrees a cost-of-living increase and then tells its employees they must wait until their financial fortunes improve?
"Imagine nurses in the NHS being told that their pay award was being pegged to the number of patients passing through their wards?
"If colleges are in difficulty, we are willing to make specific recommendations to ministers, together with the AOC, to seek additional funding to pay the award. Where colleges provide no adequate explanation, branches will be asked to consider industrial action."
The Association, though, has already spoken up for the non-paying colleges, describing their actions as prudence in uncertain times.