LECTURERS AT Perth College, hitherto a relative oasis of calm in the choppy waters of industrial relations in further education, began a programme of strike action this week.
Members of the Educational Institute of Scotland's Further Education Lecturers' Association are objecting to changes in the academic staff structure, which they claim will have a "damaging effect" on pay and conditions but which the management insists will strengthen the college's academic leadership.
A ballot for industrial action was backed by 93 per cent of those voting, the union says. Without a settlement, the walk-out on Tuesday is set to escalate to two days next week and three days for each week after that until June 21.
A college statement points out that the EIS represents 97 of the 315 full-time and part-time teaching staff, and only 68 voted for industrial action.
The dispute centres on a restructuring of academic posts for which, according to Bill Meach, EIS branch secretary at the college, the management has failed to provide a sound educational rationale. "Management seems intent only on denying senior lecturing staff the right to be covered by the same conditions as other academic staff," he said. "They have made no secret of their wish to erode conditions of service for all new staff."
Mandy Exley, the principal, said the changes would provide opportunities for all staff through the creation of four "advanced practitioner" posts (similar to chartered teachers in schools) and 12 "curriculum manager"
posts which are intended to bring decision-making as close to staff and students as possible.
Mr Meach said there had been a lack of "meaningful consultation" which was eroding staff confidence in management.
But Ms Exley pointed out that talks have been going on with the union since last October? And that a pay deal had been agreed in December which would make Perth lecturers among the top 10 best paid in the country.
According to the management, 20 lecturers have been affected by the restructuring plans and only 11 of those were members of the EIS.