Two-thirds of colleges pay only Pounds 4 an hour to non-academic staff, with some receiving less than Pounds 3, a survey by the support staff union Unison has found.
More than half of all FE colleges had not awarded the nationally-agreed pay rise for last year, and 56 per cent of colleges admitted to having no pay policy at all.
The union's revelations show a stark contrast to the way lecturers were treated. A separate survey by the Association of Colleges published this week shows that two-thirds of colleges paid the lecturers' 2.5 per cent pay rise in full.
Just under a third (30 per cent) of the colleges responding to the AOC questionnaire survey failed to pay the agreed rate, while one in 12 (8 per cent) paid more.
Almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of colleges in the survey said they stuck to national pay scales. Four out of 10 colleges who departed from agreed rates cited financial hardship in the AOC study.
The Unison survey was carried out by the national negotiating committee for support staff after it decided to look at low pay in the sector, concerned at the apparent discrimination in favour of lecturers.
The union, which has 25,000 members working in FE, is now consulting its members on what it calls a "poverty-busting" claim for Pounds 500 or 5 per cent, whichever is the greater. Their members provide administrative support to academic staff, run libraries, work as technicians, cleaners and catering staff, provide security and maintenance.
Rodney Bickerstaffe, general secretary of Unison, said: "No wonder the morale of our members is so low in further education. People should realise that behind every lecturer there are dozens of Unison members who play a vital role in the everyday life of colleges all the year round. And the sad fact is that many of them do this work for very little reward.
"They have borne the brunt of rising student numbers with inevitable increases to their workload. At the same time budgets have been cut, services contracted out and pay rates have fallen. We are determined to tackle low pay in further education and it is vital that this year's pay claim is a success."
Questionnaires were sent to 370 colleges and 40 per cent responded. Nine colleges paid Pounds 3 an hour or less, 29 paid Pounds 3-Pounds 3.50, 57 paid Pounds 3.50 to Pounds 4, 39 paid Pounds 4-Pounds 4.50, and 15 paid more than Pounds 4.50. Three forms were not completed.
Some 83 colleges had no pay policy, which surprised the national negotiating committee. They agreed to recommend to colleges that they should adopt such policies, and these should be discussed with the relevant trade unions.
A number of colleges had more than one service contracted out. Some 78 contracted out domestic services, then came catering (60), and security (51) as the next highest. Only 53 colleges said they made use of job evaluation schemes, while nearly 100 said they did not. The committee suggested that a new scheme in local government, and work in developing a plan in higher education, should be examined to see if there was any relevance for FE.