University and College Union (UCU) members at Newcastle College voted to escalate their dispute at an emergency meeting last week about plans affecting 185 staff, who face losing their jobs or accepting lower-paid roles. The union said the changes could mean some members of staff losing more than pound;10,000 from their annual salary.
The UCU claims the college has no need to make such significant cuts when it is in strong financial health. In the last financial year, it reported a surplus of pound;6 million and it is in the process of merging with Northumberland College to rescue the "financially weak" college.
Union members were also outraged when it was revealed that Dame Jackie Fisher, chief executive of the Newcastle College Group, which also includes Skelmersdale and Ormskirk College and private provider Intraining, earned an extra pound;72,000 last year as a retention incentive and performance bonus, on top of her pound;186,000 salary.
In addition, the college announced last week a generous scheme of student support to supplement the Government's replacement of the education maintenance allowance, which could mean an estimated pound;1 million of surpluses paid to help students.
UCU regional officer Iain Owens said: "Newcastle College is in good financial health and certainly has no problem rewarding its principal.
"This show of gross double standards will simply strengthen the resolve of UCU members here at Newcastle to fight for their pay and jobs, and to defend local educational provision in the area."
He said that some lecturers were being offered a new role called "lecturer A" at pound;22,500, below the recommended national pay scale for a qualified teacher in FE. Others were being offered "instructor" roles, also on the unqualified pay scale.
The college is guaranteeing to maintain salaries at this year's level for one more year, however, and had set aside pound;1.23 million to fund the losses to affected members of staff.
A college spokeswoman said it was offering a total of 172 new jobs to staff affected by the changes, minimising the need for redundancies. But the college conceded that some would be on lower pay.
Newcastle College principal Bev Robinson said: "The college has had no option but to re-engineer its curriculum offer in light of pound;6.25 million in Government funding cuts and changes in Government priorities. Following these Government changes, we reviewed our staffing requirements. One outcome of this review was a need for different types of staff to deliver and support courses."
She said that its introduction of extra student support funding underlined its commitment to protect learning, despite the funding cuts.
The college said Dame Jackie's retention payment had been agreed three years earlier by governors, who were keen to ensure stability of leadership at the college while Skelmersdale and Ormskirk joined the group and it acquired Intraining.
The sum was paid in August 2010 before the results of the comprehensive spending review were known, the college said.
NEWCASTLE COLLEGE: BUOYANT BUT EMBATTLED STAR TURN
Despite its income growth and outstanding Ofsted rating, Newcastle College (pictured) has endured a series of bitter industrial disputes.
In 2000, Dame Jackie Fisher's first year at the college, it suffered two strikes. These were followed by protracted disputes and strikes over pay and new contracts in 2001.
A further dispute over another new contract in 2005, which saw pay reduced and teaching hours extended, raged for most of the year. College management won the battle of wills and all but one member of staff signed under new conditions after being threatened with the sack. The one hold- out, Neil Sharp, said he was close to retirement and could afford to take a stand.
In the latest dispute, the first day of strike action was taken on 12 April this year over threats to jobs.
Original headline: Strikes called as college threatens to make staff reapply - for less pay