College set to step-up pay battle with union

7th June 1996 at 01:00
The two-year wage fight at Coatbridge College is set to escalate with management poised to derecognise the main union, which in turn has again rejected a 2.5 per cent pay offer for last year.

The impasse has already led the 80 members of the College Lecturers' Association at the college to stage a one-day strike on May 16, the first in Scotland since incorporation. The union has now called a second one day strike for Wednesday, June 12.

James Higney, the CLA branch convener at the college, blamed the clash on "the intransigence of an inexperienced board of management".

However, John Reilly, the Coatbridge board chairman, said the budget allocation by the Scottish Office was to blame. The pay offer was all management could afford as a result of an eight per cent budget cut in the current year, he said.

The college now faces the prospect of what the CLA describes as "a rolling campaign of tactical and strategic industrial action", while the union faces the threat of being derecognised. Coatbridge's management have already given the union six months notice of terminating the "recognition and procedure agreement" which runs out today.

Both sides are united on just one thing: they say they have no option but to act as they are. "It is not a position that the teaching staff sought or intended to happen," Mr Higney said.

Mr Reilly said: "I accept that a two and a half per cent offer is an effective pay cut and I can understand why the union doesn't like it. If I was in their position, I wouldn't like it either. But they're picking a fight with the wrong people: we're only agents in this matter" Mr Reilly said the only way to resolve the impasse, other than by a change of government policy, is by funding a bigger pay rise through "efficiencies", such as increasing class-contact time and more flexible working - although he acknowledged that the staff are already prepared to be flexible. "But the union has shown it is not prepared to enter into that kind of negotiation," he said.

Ian MacIver, the college principal, said the college had been prepared to meet the CLA on its own ground by agreeing to offer flat-rate pay rises. This would have given lecturers at the bottom of the salary scale a 4 per cent increase as opposed to 2.1 per cent for senior lecturers.

The CLA, part of the Educational Institute of Scotland, rejected that offer. Mr Higney accuses the Coatbridge board of presiding over a history of disputes and condemns its "ostrich style of management". Mr Reilly insists that previous settlements at the college "stand comparison with the best of the rest in terms of both pay and conditions".

Both Mr Higney and Mr Reilly say they would be prepared to discuss a two-year deal but it, too, is likely to be hamstrung by college insistence that any offer does not "bust the budget" and CLA's refusal to trade pay for conditions.

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