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Lecturers turn on principal

LECTURERS at Wales's biggest further education college have passed a vote of no confidence in their principal following a row over new contracts.

The lecturers at Coleg Gwent, formerly Gwent Tertiary College, are furious at an attempt by the principal David Mason to reduce their leave entitlement, increase their time on campus and cut their redundancy-notice period.

Around 400 lecturers, all members of the lecturers' union NATFHE, met last week to discuss the new contracts, which arrived at their homes just days before Christmas. They unanimously passed a motion of no confidence in Mr Mason and agreed to place a collective grievance with the governing body.

In 199697 the college made an operating deficit of pound;6.8 billion and its cash reserves fell to pound;4.4 million. Although it is now back on its feet financially, lecturers have received no pay rise and have been working to sanctions.

The new contracts would reduce holiday entitlement from 11 to nine weeks a year and cut their redundancy notice from one year to four months.

The lecturers would also be expected to spend all 37 hours of their working week on campus, instead of the existing 32 hours, which allowed them five hours off campus.

In return, the lecturers would receive a 5 per cent pay rise from February 1 and a pound;1,000 lump sum to compensate for the lack of recent pay rises.

NATFHE is angry at the way the new contracts have been presented to staff without negotiation and the union's Wales regional official Dilys Hardacre claimed the overall package actually meant a pa cut for the lecturers.

She said: "Members are incensed at the insensitivity of the principal to send out the contracts at such a time when they were isolated at home.

"These lecturers are people who got the college out of its financial problems and sacrificed a pay rise to turn the college around."

There will be a meeting of the college's governing body on January 25 and the union is hoping the situation will be resolved then. If not, Ms Hardacre promises the union will consider industrial action.

David Mason, who took charge in April 1998, said he was trying to bring the lecturers' contracts into line with those at most other FE colleges and added that a significant number of lecturers had already returned their signed contracts.

He said: "I have spent the past 14 months negotiating with NATFHE in a positive attempt to try to resolve the problems. On two occasions we have reached a firm agreement with the NATFHE negotiating team and members rejected it.

"I felt there was no other way to go than to talk directly to staff to see if I could persuade them that change was inevitable. We wanted to make a good financial offer in exchange for some changes in their working conditions."

Welsh Assembly members are being urged to use their influence with the college governing body.

However, Mr Mason said: "The contract we are offering to the staff is certainly no worse than any other college in the country. In terms of the holiday entitlement it is slightly better, and we are not asking them to do any more teaching."

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