A McCRONE-STYLE investigation into pay and conditions was called for by Sandy Fowler, the Educational Institute of Scotland president, in his address. Mr Fowler said the number of times the main union had been asked to come to the aid of FE members suggested "a sector in crisis".
But, in a veiled warning to CLA officers, Mr Fowler said they had to "engage" with ministers and employers. "Change brought about by consensus is better than that which is imposed."
The union is clearly alarmed at disparities following the abolition of national negotiations. Mr Fowler pointed to the "disgrace" of the pound;4,000 differential between lecturers at the top of the basic scale, from pound;24,455 at John Wheatley College to pound;28,432 at James Watt College.
Evidence from a survey by the Association of Scottish Colleges and the Further Education National Training Organisation, published this week, has added to the concern. While the number of permanent full-time teaching staff has remained almost constant at around 5,000 for four years, the equivalent figure for support staff has gone up from 3,900 in 1997-98 to around 4,700 in 2000-01.
The survey also shows that temporary part-time lecturers represent more than half of the teaching staff in colleges. Only 9 per cent to 13 per cent of support staff are on such contracts.
Mr Fowler says lecturers have been paying the price for the financial difficulties facing colleges and the efficiency drives demanded by ministers. "These figures are a damning indictment of the state of our colleges."