Strikes loom over pay

The lecturers' union Natfhe is shaping up for a national campaign of strike action against colleges which fail to implement fully the pay deal thrashed out with employers.

One-day strikes are to be held at five colleges following this week's results of local ballots for industrial action and the union has warned of further unrest to come as it attempts to narrow the pay gap with schoolteachers.

The unions says the majority of colleges have so far failed to implement the nationally-agreed deal which would have seen members getting a 3 per cent increase as well and a shorter pay scale.

The deal, thrashed out with the Association of Colleges, was supposed to come into effect in August.

The effect of the two-part agreement would have been an average pay rise estimated at around 8 per cent.

Barry Lovejoy, head of Natfhe's colleges department, said: "We are allowing another two full months of negotiation but, really, at that point our members' patience is running out."

If the majority of colleges have still failed to award the extra cash and the new pay structure by the end of February, Natfhe says that it will hold a national conference of further education members in March.

This will be used to discuss tactics, including co-ordinated action around the country.

Even if all colleges abided by the agreed deal, the ultimate objective of parity with school teachers will still be some way off.

It is estimated that the current pay claim would still leave lecturers 6 per cent behind their school colleagues.

The one-day strikes which were prompted by this week's ballot result will take place at Furness college, Lakes college, Gateshead college, Bradford college and Southampton city college.

The national negotiations are not binding for colleges and many say that they cannot afford to fund the pay rise in full because they have too many pressures on their budgets.

As Natfhe prepares to step up its action against the employers, and colleges themselves call for more resources from the Government, ministers have been facing pressure from elsewhere over the question of pay parity.

Mike Tomlinson, in his final report on 14-19 reform, said that the issue must be addressed. Colleges are increasingly being expected to teach 14 to 16-year-olds on vocational courses, throwing the disparity in pay into focus.

Pay is an issue which, he says, needs to be addressed if his reforms are to work.

Natfhe and the other further education unions have met Kim Howells, the lifelong learning minister, repeating their call for college funding to be tied to the national pay deal.

John Brennan, Viewpoint 4

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