The University and College Union said the ballots, which opened yesterday, were the first step towards tackling about 90 colleges that have failed to implement a pay deal from four years ago. A 2004 agreement was intended to introduce faster progression up the pay scale with higher minimum pay. UCU says the minimum salary for a qualified lecturer should now be Pounds 22,857, rising to Pounds 34,587 for those with more experience.
According to the union, a middle-ranking lecturer who moved to the new pay scale in 2004 would now be earning Pounds 4,500 a year more than those who remained on the old pay scales. Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, said: "Members in these colleges are getting second-class pay for first- class teaching. They have waited four years for a deal agreed with national employers to be implemented.
"It is completely unacceptable for these colleges to think they can get away with an IOU for four years."
She said colleges that had faced financial difficulty made flexible agreements with the union, leaving "no excuse" for those remaining.
Barry Lovejoy, the union's head of further education, said about 56 per cent of FE colleges had been given the green light under the union's "traffic light" system for implementing the deal. A further 11 per cent were on amber as talks continue.
The 11 targeted so far will all face a one-day strike in January if members vote in favour, but Mr Lovejoy said the remaining third of colleges that had refused to implement the deal could face ballots in February. Colleges argue they face restricted budgets. A pledge to slash the funding gap between colleges and schools was broken after ministers realised that cash to pay for teachers' higher salaries had not been taken into account.
The latest figures suggest the funding gap still stands at 9 per cent, which colleges say makes it hard for them to offer salaries that rival schoolteachers'.
Evan Williams, director of employment and professional services at the Association of Colleges, said it was up to each college to decide how to implement the national recommendation negotiated with the union. He said: "The funding gap hasn't been reduced as much as we wanted and colleges are finding it harder as a result. There is a fine line between making pay awards and what is affordable - and not wanting to lose jobs."
Colleges needed time to make changes to the pay scales in a way that suited their local conditions, Mr Williams said.
Anna Openshaw, human resources director at the College of North West London, said implementing the deal in 2004 would have cost her institution Pounds 300,000 to Pounds 400,000 at a time when funding was limited.
The college, based near Wembley, already pays inner London salaries while only being funded as an outer London college, bringing its pay closer to the scale expected by UCU, she said. "We have had to make redundancies, like many colleges in the past two years. We are not getting the funding for it and that has to come from somewhere."
UNDER STRIKE THREAT
Nelson and Colne College
Greenwich Community College
College of North West London
Dearne Valley College
Rotherham College of Arts and Technology
Evesham and Malvern Hills College
Sussex Downs College
Askham Bryan College
and up to 33% of all colleges
In Talks: 11% of colleges
In the Clear: 56% of colleges.