Legal tussle ends with new leaf turned over

Francis Beckett

The lecturers who launched the Colleges Legal Fund to fight to retain old conditions of service have withdrawn their legal action against the Colleges' Employers' Forum and announced that they are setting up a new trade union.

The lecturers' union, NATFHE, will now have rivals for members on both political wings.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers is seeking to attract those who believe NATFHE was too obdurate in negotiations with the CEF. The new union, to be called the Lecturers' Employment Action Fellowship (LEAF), will argue that it was not obdurate enough.

The driving force behind LEAF is David Evans, a business studies lecturer at Havering College of Further and Higher Education. The founders are six lecturers who have worked with Mr Evans to raise cash to fund the legal action. They say LEAF will be "a different kind of union organisation" which will confront the aggressive culture of the CEF.

Mr Evans says that NATFHE and ATL "have left staff in FE colleges in a position of considerable uncertainty as to what legal rights they have following the transfer of colleges from local authority control in 1993. "

He believes NATFHE has failed to make proper use of the European Commission's Acquired Rights Directive, and its incorporation into UK law as the Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment legislation (TUPE).

NATFHE won an important victory in 1992 when it persuaded the courts that lecturers' conditions went with them.As a result lecturers went into the new corporations with their existing terms intact. The colleges could not argue that they were new employers starting with an entirely blank sheet which is what the CEF and the Government had hoped to do.

But talks between NATFHE and the CEF failed to reach a consensus on a new national agreement. NATFHE policy now is to seek agreements with individual colleges, and many colleges have now achieved this.

As a result Mr Evans blames NATFHE for the collapse of his legal action. It hinged, he says, on whether the Silver Book negotiating machinery still exists. But, he says, NATFHE had thrown away its European Court gains by abandoning national machinery and opting for local deals.

Sue Berryman of NATFHE says: "Once local authorities lost control of colleges, the national negotiating machinery for college lecturers ceased to exist, because local authorities were no longer our employers.

"We said that a collective trade union strategy based on negotiations and backed up by industrial action was the best way to protest. We now have 47.5 per cent of lecturers on contracts agreed with NATFHE.

"We want to go for the industrial approach rather than one based on complex legal processes."

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