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Staff plan two days of strikes

Lecturers have heeded the call by their union NATFHE to take industrial action over pay. Steve Hook reports.

LECTURERS will strike for two days this month after a 65 per cent vote for action in support of their call for more pay.

The ballot by the lecturers' union NATFHE also showed more than 88 per cent in favour of industrial action short of a strike.

The result lands the pay question firmly in the Government's court following the collapse of pay talks last week, when the Association of Colleges threw in the towel, saying there was not enough money to improve its 1.5 per cent offer.

Pay is expected to dominate NATFHE's conference in Torquay from June 1.

The Department for Education and Skills is criticised by NATFHE and the other FE teaching unions for claiming to be concerned about the pay gap between schools and post-16 while allowing it to get wider. As reported in last week's TES, schools are taking on increasing numbers of disillusioned lecturers, even those without qualified teacher status.

"Our members are incensed at the insulting offer from the employers," said Paul Mackney, NATFHE's general secretary. "They say they want to pay lecturers salaries comparable to schoolteachers', but offer 2.5 per cent less. The Government keeps saying it wants to improve lecturers' pay but has yet to come up with the cash."

NATFHE says action will affect 280 colleges, with separate ballots having been held in each.

While opposed to the strike, the AOC says it is "angry and frustrated" over having to pull out of the pay talks because of lack of cash from Whitehall.

NATFHE argues the DFES should use an unspent pot of pound;1.4 million to increase the offer to lecturers - a call which has been supported by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

John Harwood, chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council, has told MPs that poor pay could undermine the Government's plans for post-16 education.

David Gibson, chief executive of the AOC, said: "We greatly regret the decision of NATFHE nationally to strike. Colleges will do everything necessary to ensure that students' education is not harmed.

"We have submitted a joint claim with NATFHE and other unions for pound;500m to fund better staff pay. Those teaching A-levels in colleges are just as dedicated as those in schools. The money must come from the Government - colleges simply can't afford any more."

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