Lecturers ordered to sign contracts or face the sack

8th July 2005 at 01:00
A college is threatening to sack nearly half of its lecturers to end a pay dispute which has lasted almost a year.

Newcastle college has warned staff that the contract will be imposed regardless of whether Natfhe, the lecturers' union, agrees in a ballot due to end next Friday.

About 200 staff who have refused to sign the contract, which their union says will mean longer hours and less pay, would lose their jobs and be forced to sign the new contract to go back to work.

The union has held seven one-day strikes since February in protest at the changes, including one on the day the college was awarded beacon status.

Natfhe says the contract changes mean extending teaching time from a maximum of 24 hours a week to a guideline of 29 hours, with no formal limit.

The college's highest-paid lecturers face a pay cut of nearly pound;2,500, although the college has offered a one-off payment of about pound;2,000 as a sweetener, the union says.

Iain Owens, Natfhe regional officer for the North, said members had "a gun to their heads".

He added: "This is not a responsible way to conduct industrial relations.

Our members are being told that they can vote for this new contract and have it, vote against it and still have it, or face the dole."

A spokeswoman at the college accused Natfhe of being "alarmist". She said the maximum number of teaching hours in a year would remain the same at 860 hours, but staff would agree with managers how many hours they should teach each week because the college needed to be flexible.

Many lecturers would also get pay rises under the new contract, which will cost an extra pound;1.1 million a year for teaching and non-teaching staff, the college said.

"Even if members turn down the offer, the college would enter into a further period of consultation which would take several months," the spokeswoman said.

But in a letter to staff, principal Jackie Fisher made it clear that the consultation period would be a precursor to sacking staff.

"I will have no option but to move to a 90-day consultation period on imposing the new contract for business reasons," she said.

She warned that if the union rejected the latest proposals, "we have nothing further to offer".

Concessions achieved in recent negotiations - including the one-off payments - would be withdrawn, she added.

The college said Natfhe's comments amounted to breaking an agreement to present the deal neutrally to members before the ballot takes place.

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