A NATIONAL boycott by lecturers threatens to undermine the Government's plans to get school pupils into colleges at post-14.
The lecturers' union NATFHE says its members will refuse to work in co-operation with their colleagues in schools unless employers can come up with a pay offer which helps close what they say is a 12 per cent pay gap with teachers.
"If the Government wants us to be involved in 14 to 16 then they must pay us the same as schoolteachers," said Nick Barr, chairman of the union's further education committee, at its annual conference in Torquay at the weekend. "If not," he added, "we don't take part."
The news was broken privately to Ivan Lewis, the young people's minister, by Paul Mackney, general secretary of NATFHE, just before the minister was due to speak to delegates on Monday - five days after the union's two-day strike over pay.
NATFHE rejected a 1.5 per cent pay offer and wants a substantial settlement this year as part of a catch-up process to bring its members' pay into line with teachers in schools.
As he started talking, Mr Lewis was approached and offered peanuts by a protester dressed in a monkey costume.
The minister asked "Are you the mayor of Hartlepool?"
The comment raised a laugh but the smiles faded as Mr Lewis attempted to defend the Government's record on pay.
The majority of union members walked out and some heckled, banged tables and jeered throughout the minister's speech. To a rapidly diminishing audience, he said: "You make a vital contribution to this Government's mission to rebuild Britain on the dual foundations of social justice and economic success. I fully understand your serious concerns relating to pay. But there can be no justification for the strike action which took place last week.
"It is unrealistic to expect us to put right, in five years, 25 to 30 years of under-valuing and under-funding. This dispute is, frankly, leading nowhere."
Mr Mackney spontaneously rounded on Mr Lewis and his party, expressing lecturers' frustration over their long battle for equal pay with schoolteachers, and was greeted by noisy cheers and a standing ovation.
He said: "I did not expect to be so angry this morning. My brother-in-law has been working for 30 years in FE. His stepdaughter has been four years in an infant school. She already earns more than him. There can be no justice in that.
"There are people crying because they are having to leave the colleges they love to get a decent wage."
"They call it lifelong learning. But the ministers, they don't last a year. I've had a Labour party card since 1975. I really wonder why I've got it. Now that is lifelong learning."
Tina Downes, NATFHE president, told Mr Lewis: "I am sorry you did not have a very friendly reception. I think you were set up by your colleagues. FE is being used as a football by employers and the Government. You are blaming each other."
NATFHE conference, 31