'Bullies need to know there is no place to hide'

9th January 1998 at 00:00
This is an edited version of Paul Mackney's election address:

NATFHE is special. It is based in the workplace. Most members know their branch officers and see them as "the Union". But there is something wrong at the top. The principal day-to-day purpose of NATFHE's l00 staff should be to provide branch officers with prompt advice and back-up.

That clarity of purpose has been lost. NATFHE's employees work very hard but not always at the right things. Many members and branch officers feel abandoned.

NATFHE needs a professional approach. We cannot afford another amateur enthusiast.

NATFHE has been allowed to drift into a deficit. The deficit, if not arrested, is projected in 1998 to climb to #163;800,000 on a budget of #163;6 million.

Last year, some 20 head office staff went in a #163;200,000 redundancy exercise. Then, most posts were refilled because no one had devised a new staffing structure.

So we still have no officials with responsibility for adult education, agriculture, health and safety or part-time staff.

The situation is critical but not terminal. We can pull through, provided we:

- reorganise officials - defining functions and prioritising support to branch officers;

- link officials nationally in new HE and FE teams;

- define clearly what members are entitled to, from whom and when;

- involve members in a massive recruitment crusade;

- federate with other unions (AUT, NUT, Unison) to share common central services, and;

- effect stricter monitoring of expenditure.

We should not cut essential services to members or get carried away by the urge to merge at any price. I would prefer us to buy some time by re-mortgaging Britannia Street [the London HQ] first.

We need a positive and open approach with members about NATFHE's problems.If members are convinced of NATFHE's relevance they will start persuading the l00,000 non-union lecturers to join.

We need planning rather than plotting. The culture of secret meetings at head office has to change. The staff time spent would be better devoted to recruitment in the field.

It is pointless to base strategy around industrial action we cannot deliver. This year most members felt too exhausted to support laudable national attempts to ballot to force the Association of CollegesColleges Employers Forum to negotiate.

The present AOCCEF leadership maintains the pretence of national pay bargaining. But its recommendations are not binding. Each college is encouraged to set its own pay rates and pay bands. By October, less than 60 per cent of colleges had given pay rises.

To end the current chaos nationally we should unite behind:

- a demand for a Government Commission into FE pay and conditions;

- a campaign of action to commit the AOCCEF to a national conditions of service framework agreement and a return to national pay scales.

In the meantime, we cannot leave the determination of pay and conditions entirely to employers. No one wants time-consuming and divisive local bargaining. But, if the employers won't negotiate nationally, we have to bargain locally.

Regional offices should be resource bases assisting branch officers in local negotiations - developing training, encouraging good practice and organising solidarity for branches in trouble.

FE regional committees should be retained but refocused on complementary branch co-ordination and support.

There was no need to forgo national bargaining in adult education. We must get it back. I have led negotiations with eight Midlands employers and secured pay rises with agreed contracts which could provide benchmarks for a national framework. All of these employers have agreed to end the routine use of fixed-term contracts for part-timers.

Part-time contracts are a priority. A critique of current employer practices is not enough. We need to present a credible alternative to bogus self-employment agencies and academic burger bar (zero hour) contracts.

I have negotiated an agreement with Leicestershire which gives 1,500 lecturers permanent status and guaranteed minimum hours where annual teaching hours exceed l00. I am discussing it with 10 other employers as an alternative to ELS.

Bullies need to know that there is no place to hide. We will track them down even, as with Stoke-on-Trent, to a deserted Welsh pub.

A public enquiry into the FEFC is long overdue. 1997 saw the implosion of the FEFC's funding regime with budget cuts for 86 per cent of the colleges.

The contrived market has not improved the service provided by the majority of colleges. Planned expansion without unnecessary competition could have succeeded - without such human cost.

The oppressive statistical requirements of the FEFC have driven educationally viable agricultural colleges to near-bankruptcy.

But first prize for market mechanism misery goes to penal education, which has been a bed of nails since it was subjected to tender. We must act as the major public advocate for genuine post-16 education and seize every opportunity to influence a government which is publicly sympathetic and still formulating policy.

Lifelong learning, if underfunded, becomes more of a prison sentence for our members than an access opportunity for students. New deals need new money. We cannot return to the old LEA days but we want to advance to something better than pile-em-deep, teach-em-cheap.

Equal opportunities: Much has been done to address the career progression of some women. But there is an army of part-timers, and lecturers in pay band ghettos, experiencing widespread discrimination.

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