Managements in a world of their own

Neil Munro reports on the worsening climate for industrial relations as pressure mounts for a return to national bargaining

THE survey by the College Lecturers' Association, which drew responses from half of colleges, revealed remarkable disparities in perception between the union and management. The only common ground appeared to be a virtually unanimous view that class sizes have gone up since 1994, as has the number of courses.

The two sides also agree that there has been a major growth in the number of administrative staff. Despite this, every CLA branch reports that this has been accompanied by a rise in administrative chores for lecturers. Only 40 per cent of managements accept this.

The two sides are unable to agree on whether there has been a reduction in teaching staff since 1994 - 70 per cent of CLA branches say there has, but fewer than 20 per cent of managements took this view.

Counting staff released for training in the special FE qualification also produces divergent views - 90 per cent of managements say the number is up, against only 50 per cent on the union side.

But perhaps the most remarkable discrepancy is that only 10 per cent of staff say they meet regularly with college boards, although almost 70 per cent of managements believe they do.

Similarly, all managements say they have "an open, transparent approach", against 50 per cent of staff. All managements regard their relationship with staff as good, against 30 per cent of staff. All managements say the board member representing staff is encouraged to seek their opinion of management initiatives, compared with just under 40 per cent of staff.

Not surprisingly, the two sides also differ on morale - 70 per cent of managements rate it as good or very good, which is judged to be the case by fewer than 20 per cent of the union responses.

Marian Healy, FE and HE officer of the EIS, says the survey shows the need for a review of how FE is managed. "This can only be done nationally by the representatives of management and unions sitting down round the same table."

While the unions are demanding a return to national, collective bargaining, those managements which support the move tend to do so only on the basis of "single table" bargaining in which academic and support staff unions come together.

The CLA remains sceptical of this but Ms Healy suggests that FE could follow the example of higher education where there is a UK-wide approach to bargaining. All the unions sit round a table to negotiate common issues. Matters that are distinctive to one group are dealt with in subcommittees.

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