College employers' leaders were this week poised to derecognise the lecturers' union NATFHE in talks on managers' pay, writes Lucy Ward.
As The TES went to press, the Colleges' Employers' Forum was issuing the threat to NATFHE negotiators seeking a 17 per cent pay rise for members on the management spine in colleges.
It said derecognition would follow unless the union agreed to a new contract for managers - an arbitration service-brokered deal accepted last year by the Association for College Management, the other union representing senior college staff.
The CEF would still talk with NATFHE on pay for lecturers and support staff, though negotiations on lecturers' pay broke down this week. The employers were this week also holding pay negotiations with the more moderate ACM, which is claiming a minimum 4 per cent pay rise for senior staff. The talks stalled, but are due to finish next week.
The CEF has been threatening for some time to derecognise NATFHE in negotiations on management deals. On Wednesday, it told NATFHE negotiators it would not enter talks as planned unless the union signed up to new contracts on the spot.
The CEF claims its surveys indicate that all but a very few senior college staff have signed the new management contract. Mr Ward said: "Since most of the NATFHE members have signed it is farcical that NATFHE headquarters have not signed a national agreement."
Official derecognition takes nine months, but CEF chief executive Roger Ward said that unless NATFHE reversed its stance talks on management spine staff would "effectively cease from today".
The tough talking reflects the employers' bullish stance on lecturers' pay. A breakdown in talks with NATFHE has left college principals anticipating local settlements - a scenario being resisted by NATFHE but also dreaded by many college managers. One principal said: "I pay the CEF to do that dirty work for me."
Talks between the CEF and ACM have been adjourned until next Tuesday. John Bolton, ACM national negotiator and Blackburn College principal said the association expected to reach a settlement.
The sticking point in the talks has been the 4 per cent rise and an ACM demand that a CEF promise to increase the gap between managers' and lecturers' pay be fulfilled.
The CEF agreed to differential pay last year but asked for a year's grace. The ACM has said it will register a refusal to agree if the employers stall again.