A go-it-alone college has told lecturers they will be sacked unless they sign a local pay and grading contract that offers up to pound;6,000 a year less than the nationally-agreed deal.
Staff at Southampton City college have been ordered to sign contracts that put them on a performance-related pay scale, or their current contracts will terminate on June 30.
Unions say it is the first college to try to break away completely from the nationally agreed pay deal between the Association of Colleges and the lecturers' union Natfhe, signed two years ago.
Under that deal, lecturers earn between pound;20,283 and pound;30,705 without extra responsibilities. On Southampton City's scale, Natfhe says qualified lecturers will earn between pound;19,060 and pound;24,520.
In a letter to lecturers, principal Lindsey Noble said progression on the pay scale would depend on a process of "contribution assessment". But union officials say the assessments - in which lecturers will be graded as key, effective or unsatisfactory contributors - are "subjective".
Ms Noble denied the college's pay deal was performance related, and that it peaked at pound;6,000 below the national deal. Some lecturers would get Pounds 28,120, she insisted.
"Staff will progress on an incremental scale related to their contribution, and the vast majority of our staff are key and effective contributors," Ms Noble said.
She said work on the new structure began more than two years ago and that unions were initially involved in the job evaluation process before they withdrew their co-operation.
She added: "The college has looked at the extra cost of implementing the AoC recommended grades and pay rates and refuses to commit itself to a structure it knows it cannot honour - its destiny should be in its own hands."
Two weeks ago, Ms Noble told FE Focus of her plans to replace part of the college's estate, built in 1866 as a workhouse for paupers, in a pound;9 million redevelopment.
Mary Cooper, Natfhe's south-east regional officer, said the local pay deal flies in the face of the Hampshire college's ambition to vacate its Victorian buildings and move into the 21st century.
She added: "The principal may want to get rid of the poor house, but the paupers are still getting poorer by the day."
Barry Lovejoy, Natfhe's head of colleges, said: "(Ms Noble) may want to escape Victorian buildings, but she brings Victorian attitudes to industrial relations. We now have a national pay framework that embraces local flexibility. It really is ill-advised ideology on her part not to negotiate within the national scheme.
"In general, principals support moving over to the new structure, but there may be funding issues with individual colleges. She is swimming against the tide and that can only damage the college."
Staff were due to strike last month as part of national action over pay, but the dispute was suspended while both sides went to arbitration which proved unsuccessful.
Ross Murdoch, Southampton City's Natfhe secretary, said: "If the national pay deal were implemented, courses would no longer need to be cancelled and students sent home due to the college's failure to attract or retain staff.
"Those staff asked to pick up the extra workload would not now be at home on long-term sick leave as a result of stress."