EIS backlash over shotgun wedding

26th March 2004 at 00:00
The Educational Institute of Scotland is heading for yet another confrontation with its FE members despite a powerful plea from its general secretary at the weekend to put behind them the divisions surrounding the birth of the new Further Education Lecturers' Association (FELA).

Ronnie Smith told the association's inaugural conference last Saturday that he acknowledged the merger of the Scottish Further and Higher Education Association with the institute's College Lecturers' Association to form the FELA had stirred "some very deep and bitter emotions" in both unions.

But he appealed for his members to move on and recognise the "bigger picture" in which there is now a single union for FE.

The activists' response was to suspend the conference's standing orders, berate the union's leadership over its "undemocratic" handling of the unification and demand a special conference be held to draw up a new constitution.

The TES Scotland understands, however, that a special conference is unlikely as a debate held following the suspension of standing orders has no constitutional validity under the union's rules. There was no reference to this during the heated debate and its revelation will further alienate FE activists from the union's leadership.

Mr Smith had attempted to assuage his critics, underlining one of his regular themes - the need for professional unity in the school, FE and higher education sectors. "I believe members in FE should take pride in leading the field in this," he said.

He added: "No more can unscrupulous college managements drive wedges between separate unions."

Mr Smith lost no time in identifying which particular college management he felt fitted that description - those in charge at Glasgow Central College of Commerce. The college lost a claim for unfair dismissal brought by Jim O'Donovan, FELA's first president and then union branch secretary at the college.

Mr Smith said the summary findings of the employment tribunal were "a stunning result (which) represent as comprehensive an indictment of the employer as I have seen in 16 years as a full-time official".

The general secretary accused the college's management of refusing to enter into negotiations over the tribunal's judgment which called for Mr O'Donovan's reinstatement. The conference voted overwhelmingly for the EIS nationally "to fund any action necessary to ensure that reinstatement takes place as soon as possible".

Mr Smith commented: "In other walks of life, people get jailed for non-compliance with a court order. But these people seem untouchable, unaccountable to no one - not to the funding council, not to the Executive.

"If ever the inadequacy of college governance arrangements were to be exposed, this is surely it."

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