Jane Davidson, the Welsh education minister, announced on Monday that all qualified lecturers are to go on the new six-point pay scale that parallels the range of salaries paid to schoolteachers.
The deal means full-time lecturers in 25 FE colleges in Wales will receive an average pay increase of around 4.5 per cent. Managerial and support staff will receive an extra 2.5 per cent.
To ensure the agreement is honoured, the minister said colleges can access the extra pound;11million of funding made available only if they implement the deal in full.
Natfhe, the lecturers' union, says this is the key difference from the pay deal agreed on behalf of lecturers in England.
A new eight-point pay scale, similar to the teachers', comes into force in England in August. It offers a maximum salary of pound;30,705 for qualified lecturers and a starting salary of pound;20,283.
In England, individual colleges can decide not to pay lecturers the full increase, and the union is making plans for a series of local campaigns to get them to implement next year's pay deal in full.
Barry Lovejoy, head of Natfhe's colleges department, said: "The most significant thing about the Welsh agreement is that there is likely to be 100 per cent implementation by colleges in Wales." This funding lesson should be learned in England, he said.
In announcing the Welsh agreement, Ms Davidson said: "Today is a landmark day for the FE sector in Wales, with the accomplishment of the education and lifelong learning committee's vision of pay parity.
"High-quality and highly-motivated teaching and support staff are essential if we are to raise standards," she said, adding that the new package will be available to all colleges and is being fully funded by ELWa, the group that funds post-16 education in Wales.
Under the deal, instructors, demonstrators and associate lecturers will transfer to separate four-point scales. A working group consisting of unions and fforwm, the Welsh college employers' organisation, will report in August on how to bring hourly salaried part-time lecturers into the agreement.
The minister first promised to secure pay parity with teachers in October 2002, when she announced extra funding for FE lecturers and support staff for 2003-04 to address low pay in the sector. "I am pleased to announce that the promise has been kept and that full-time college lecturers will be paid at an equivalent level to schoolteachers from 2004-05," she added.
Craig Lewis, chair of Natfhe's Wales FE committee, welcomed the new deal.
He said: "This means a return to common rates of pay for all lecturers in Wales and is a welcome step back to a meaningful career structure.
"For the last decade colleges have been free to decide pay locally. Many have used this freedom to drive pay levels below nationally agreed rates in an attempt to cheapen delivery and compete with other providers."
The deal, however, did not provide complete parity with teachers, he said, as details have still to be thrashed out about lecturers' progression to the upper pay spine available to schoolteachers, of three extra "threshold" points.
He said negations are continuing with fforwm "with a view to achieving genuine parity by April 2005".
The union's delight has, however, been marred as several Welsh colleges have announced significant redundancies since the deal was agreed. Mr Lewis added: "The employers' knee-jerk reaction to any financial difficulty is to sack lecturers. Strike action to oppose the growing tide of redundancies may be necessary."