Lecturers' summer of strikes ahead

25th May 2001 at 01:00
The next government should brace itself for more industrial action, reports Steve Hook.

THE next government faces a series of one-day strikes as lecturers harden their resolve for more pay following this week's national action.

The first national strike in 10 years by the college lecturers' union NATFHE, on Tuesday, was just the beginning of what is likely to be a long summer of discontent in the classroom, the union predicts.

NATFHE claims that around 80 per cent of lecturers in 290 further education colleges were absent from work.

"With the strength of feeling we have at the moment, I think we can expect support for a number of one-day strikes. We are working on additional action short of a strike on top of that," said Barry Lovejoy, NATFHE's national FE official.

"This is the most solid strike I have ever seen and I have been active in the union since the early 1980s."

Plans for further action will be decided on Sunday at the union's annual conference in Scarborough which is expected to be dominated by pay.

Rallies took place to coincide with Tuesday's walk-out at Newcastle, Bradford, Manchester, Nottingham, Cardiff, London, Birmingham and Coventry.

The Association of Colleges confirmed that three colleges were effectively closed for the day and NATFHE says the majority of FE's 3.5 million students were affected.

Some lecturers, the union says, were given dispensation to invigilate examinations in colleges where managers had been unable to make alternative arrangements.

The union wants a pound;3,000 per head increase for lecturers as part of its campaign to bring pay into line with schoolteachers. Eleventh-hour negotiations failed to prevent action when the AOC offered 3 per cent, compared with the 37 teachers' settlement.

The AOC claims the impact of the strike was less than NATFHE suggests. "We would estimate that about 20 to 25 per cent of people didn't turn up for work and that is based on speaking to our regional directors who have had reports back from individual colleges," said David Gibson, its general secretary.

The AOC claims there were only "small pockets" where colleges had been significantly affected, with staff absences largely covered by managers filling in and bringing in temporary staff to invigilate for exams.

Macolm Wicks, Labour's FE spokesman, said: "I regret NATFHE's decision to strike in the middle of talks which will give all lecturers more money."

Phil Willis, Liberal Democrat education spokesman, said his party would give a political commitment to stop college autonomy overriding national pay deals. On that basis, he believes, the AOC, NATFHE and the unions could be persuaded to get round the table and agree a deal, although he stressed it would need to be funded by Government.

"I would want to get all the parties round the table straight away before any further action," he said.

The Conservatives say they would not be held to ransom by industrial action, although they would take a more constructive approach than Labour to lecturers' "concerns". "No responsible Government can act under duress, but if we were in power, while there cannot be an open cheque book, we would take a more sensitive approach towards the concerns of lecturers," said Tim Boswell, the Tories' FE minister until 1997.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers wants a minimum offer of 4.7 per cent but has dismissed the action as "premature."

Ten years of discontent, 39 Comment, www.tesfefocus.co.uk

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