Coatbridge set for showdown on redundancies
College chiefs arranged a formal meeting with the Educational Institute of Scotland to discuss the proposals on the first day of the new term, following which the union's branch called for industrial action at a meeting last Thursday.
So far, the EIS nationally has not authorised a ballot. A union spokesman commented: "Negotiations are still ongoing to avert the redundancies and we hope that, through voluntary severance, redeployment, retraining and similar measures, we can do so."
The proposed redundancies are a direct consequence of a controversial increase in weekly class contact which was narrowly accepted in a ballot before the summer holidays.
EIS members had resisted an increase in class contact for months but, in what was the fifth ballot on the issue, they accepted the move in May after Marian Healy, the union's further and higher education officer, told them the management could legally issue new contracts and that this could not be challenged at an employment tribunal.
Figures from the Scottish Further Education Funding Council indicate that Coatbridge College has among the highest staff unit costs of any college in Scotland, which Ms Healy said pointed to the need for its salary bill to be cut. Strike action in opposition to an increase in class contact would therefore amount to "tokenism", she reportedly told members.
With lecturers now liable to teach 24 hours a week instead of 21, redundancies became inevitable - notwithstanding the acceptance by a number of staff of voluntary severance packages over the summer.
The college has carried out a detailed analysis of staffing levels which it says has identified surplus staffing in a number of sections - business and office technology, computing, support for learning, general education, childcare and education, science and sport and social care.
A statement from the college pointed out that, with the number of part-time staff involved, the redundancies being sought as a result of its staffing analysis amount to 6.14 full-time equivalent lecturers.
In response, the EIS branch is pressing the emergency committee of the union nationally to support a campaign of strike action to resist redundancies. The branch organised a demonstration at the college gates on Wednesday, joined by delegations from other colleges in the central belt.
Alice Corner, the Coatbridge principal, believes the college has no option but to reduce staff since it is required by the funding council to achieve financial stability by July 2006. Its statement said it was currently in "a financial recovery situation", with a deficit of nearly pound;700,000 which has to be eradicated within two years.
Unless there is a speedy settlement, students will have to be patient as they wait to take up places at the college within the next few weeks. Staff are pointing out that the dispute has already meant that management has delayed the start of classes by a week.