Pay parity at last - but local disputes loom, reports Steve Hook
Lecturers have voted overwhelmingly to accept a two-year pay deal which will bring them close to parity with schoolteachers.
This week's ballot result brings peace to the sector nationally, although local disputes are likely to flare in colleges which refuse to implement the deal.
Natfhe, the lecturers' union, strongly recommended the deal to its members.
The Association of Colleges' offer was accepted by 83.4 per cent in the Natfhe ballot, on a turnout of 37 per cent. It includes a 3 per cent rise on all points in the pay scale and a backdated payment of 0.5 per cent from April 2003.
In the second phase, from August 2004, new pay structures will be introduced on a shorter pay scale. The maximum salary for lecturers will increase to pound;30,705, and starting pay to pound;20,283.
The deal amounts to a 6 per cent increase over two years, but a restructuring of the lecturers' pay spine will bring further benefits.
Natfhe says it will mean the actual increase will be 8 per cent for most members and, for some, as much as 14 per cent.
Officials at Natfhe's headquarters are now working on an "FE Paywatch" campaign to ensure the deal is carried out in every college. With many colleges having implemented pay increases in some years but not in others, a patchwork of different pay levels has emerged since colleges gained independence in 1993.
Barry Lovejoy, head of Natfhe's colleges' department, said: "This is a settlement that's affordable for every college. It has the potential to bring much-needed peace to a sector that has been bedevilled by industrial strife.
"We have new opportunities with this deal to try to tackle years of neglect on pay and low staff morale. Employers must now deliver their side of the bargain.
"We will be certainly sending a message to employers that this is our final invoice for the pay we deserve, and we expect it to be paid in full."
The offer has already been accepted by the five other unions in the negotiations - the public sector workers' union, Unison, the Transport and General Workers' Union, the GMB, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and the Association for College Management.
Natfhe and the Association for College Management both insist colleges will be on weaker ground than before if they say they can't afford to implement pay rises.
Many principals have blamed non-implementation on "clawback" - where colleges deemed to be under-performing have to return cash to the Learning and Skills Council, which funds FE.
This can amount to millions of pounds in a college, typically when student numbers have fallen short of those expected. The money has to be found by making cuts in the following year's budget, often leading to redundancies and pay freezes.
Clawback is to be abolished under the LSC's latest funding reforms. The AoC welcomes this move but warns that more details will be needed before it is clear how colleges' cashflow will improve as a result.
Natfhe's own figures, based on research carried out in July, show that 41 per cent of colleges had failed to implement the 3.5 per cent deal for 200203.
This deal led lecturers to suspend industrial action in March.
Until this year, lecturers' salaries had increased by 1.1 per cent in real terms between 1997, when Labour came to power, and 2001. Secondary teachers' pay has gone up by 7.3 per cent over the same period, and primary teachers' by 6.9 per cent.