All hands to the pumps at the pay scale Circus

10th January 2003 at 00:00
BY the time this reaches your eager hands, the firefighters' dispute may finally be over. Win or lose, it is worth ponder-ing on their possible connections with further education lecturers.

At first sight, we have little in common. We run out of burning buildings (or rather, lead our students in an orderly fashion to fire points). Firefighters run into burning buildings. One lot tends to be young and fit; I'll leave you to guess which of the two groups this refers to.

There are other differences. Firefighters have been gaining in professionalism, continually learning new skills and rising in status. Lecturers have been travelling in the opposite direction. We have been modularised. Like Chaplin in Modern Times, we work on an educational conveyor belt assembling PCs (performance criteria, not computer components, though they might as well be) into learning outcomes and LOs into units, and units into courses ad infinitum.

We are being proletarianised, in the true Roman sense of the word - "a person who served the state not with property" (unless you count a mortgage as property).

Another difference is the attractiveness of the job. We are told 40 people apply for every firefighter's job. (Whether they possess the physical qualities is another matter. Since hanging up my spear, I'm a bit out of condition). In England and Wales, FE is having difficulty recruiting. But it's a strange argument this one. Ministers awarded themselves a 41 per cent rise, MPs a 20 per cent rise and yet I seem to remember that at the last election there were lots of people competing for their jobs - all the way from the Monster Raving Loonies, to Natural Law and the more conventional parties.

Anyway, let's accept the argument. If people want your job, you don't deserve a substantial rise. It must follow that, if people don't want your job, you do deserve a big pay rise. So FE, lavatory cleaners and sewage workers should be expecting 40 per cent next year. Yippee!

A further difference is that lecturers earn a lot more than the pound;6.50 an hour firefighters are paid to risk their lives. However, for some reason our pay levels are not inflationary (nor for that matter were the 16.5 per cent average pay increases senior managers got last year).

We gladiators are not expert economists; we tend to leave that to the accountants at Enron. But it is passing strange, this inflation.

So, apparently, FE lecturers have nothing in common with firefighters. There may be one important exception. Both groups serve the public and ultimately have the same paymaster.

Labour insisted firefighters could not gain a decent wage unless there are job cuts, because the rest of the public sector (which includes us lecturers) might get ideas. So our fates may be intertwined after all.

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