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Strike threat lifts at 40 colleges

Industrial action suspended as talks resume on `longest IOU in history'

The threat of strikes over pay has been lifted from about 40 colleges after talks were reopened, it emerged this week.

The University and College Union had planned to target up to 90 colleges over their failure to implement a four-year-old pay deal which the union claims could add Pounds 4,500 a year to a typical lecturer's pay.

But the UCU said the number of colleges now judged to be failing to put the deal into action stood at 51.

Strikes went ahead at eight colleges last week. Action was suspended at three more after managers agreed to resume talks.

Colleges affected questioned the strength of last Thursday's strike, called after a 38 per cent turn-out in the ballot. They said snow had caused more disruption than the walkout by lecturers.

A spokesman for Doncaster College said: "The adverse weather led to all classes being cancelled at both the college's sites last Thursday. The handful of lecturers on the picket line, before the sites were closed, were treated to coffee and bacon rolls courtesy of the principal."

Barry Lovejoy, head of further education at the UCU, said turn-out had been strong given the bad weather across the country. He said that of the 17 colleges targeted for strikes in the first wave of action, more than half - including six that resumed talks before the ballot - had agreed to implement the deal, subject to finalising the details.

The strike planned at Askham Bryan College was called off only at 8pm the day before as talks were scheduled to resume. Planned strikes at Nelson and Colne College and Evesham and Malvern Hills College were also called off after they agreed to resume talks.

Mr Lovejoy said: "The strike turn-out was very good and we are very pleased with the support. There is a feeling in our membership of more confidence in taking forward this issue."

The remaining eight colleges targeted in the first wave of strike action face a further two-day strike next month: Croydon, Greenwich Community, the College of North West London, Dearne Valley, Rotherham College of Arts and Technology, Sandwell, and Sussex Downs, as well as Doncaster.

"We hope these eight will really start sitting down with us to hammer out an agreement," Mr Lovejoy said. "We are also in the process of identifying further colleges who have not reached a settlement to ballot for industrial action."

The 2004 deal proposed that lecturers be moved to an eight-point pay scale that would allow them to progress to higher salaries more quickly, and increase the minimum and maximum pay on offer.

But deals negotiated with the Association of Colleges are not binding on member institutions, and many colleges have protested that the new structure is unaffordable or that local circumstances prevented them from putting it into practice.

The union described the pay deal as "one of the longest IOUs from management to staff in the history of industrial relations" as it began its campaign to try to make all colleges comply.

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