THE high-court decision which banned the London Underground strike has forced lecturers' union NATFHE to start preparing for a ballot over its proposed one-day strike on May 1.
All branch secretaries have been asked to compile details about members who are entitled to vote, and who would be called out if there were a strike. If preparations are not begun now, NATFHE leaders believe they risk court action from college principals which would outlaw the strike.
Ironically, it was a proposed NATFHE strike in 1994 which indirectly led to the London Underground decision. The high court ruled that the union must give employers the name of every person entitled to vote, and if the ballot was in favour of the strike, to give the employers a full list of those to be called out.
The union protested that this could lead to victimisation of its members. So in 1999, the Employment Rights Act removed the requirement to provide names. But it substituted a requirement to give full details of numbers to be called out, their grades, and their workplaces.
For the London Underground strike, te high court ruled that the employer was entitled to be given details of the depot of every member to be called out. The RMT union could not supply information in this detail.
NATFHE leaders fear that the Association of Colleges may now demand details of every site on which every balloted lecturer works. The union does not keep that sort of data.
"We have written to all branch secretaries with the membership list and the details we need to check," says Barry Lovejoy, national FE official. "We have to negotiate a bureaucratic obstacle course, or risk having the membership demand a strike and the courts rule that we cannot have one."
If the lists are not good enough, Mr Lovejoy fears that the union will be forced to give names, though the fear of victimisation has not gone away.
* Dr Anne Wright will leave her post as chief executive of the University for Industry in September, after three years overseeing the e-learning venture, writes Chris Johnston. Dr Wright will become a non-executive director on the UFI board and will advise the DFEE on post-16 e-learning.