A last-ditch lecturers' pay deal is threatening the joint alliance. Ian Nash reports
A last-minute deal backed by the Government has stopped an embarrassing two-day national strike by lecturers during the Labour party's annual conference.
But ministers were understood to be split over the offer of an additional pound;5 million end-load to give most lecturers a 4 per cent pay rise this year. John Healey, minister for adult skills, is said to have warned privately that it could backfire.
The deal between the biggest lecturers' union NATFHE and the Association of Colleges was brokered despite opposition from other unions in the joint partnership with employers, who had already settled for a 3.7 per cent rise.
The first signs of a backlash emerged after the settlement this week. One of the six unions involved said it would consider this weekend quitting the Joint National Forum. One union leader said: "Ministers have sent us a clear message that they will cave in under a serious threat of industrial action."
And, in a note to ministers and employers, Paul Mackney, NATFHE's general secretary, said that if efforts to close the pay gap with teachers falter, "we'll be back".
The extra pound;5m will be allocated to those lecturers entitled under the Teachers' Pay Initiative. This has angered the other unions who say they want TPI to be extended to all college staff.
Despite this, there was optimism within NATFHE and the AOC this week that the impasse over pay had been breached and that progress could be made on wider pay rewards for excellence, experience and qualifications.
Mr Mackney said: "A tangible start to closing the gap between college lecturers' and school teachers' pay has been made."
Ivor Jones, AOC director of employment policy, said: "We are pleased they have suspended industrial action and that NATFHE's FE committee is recommending the offer to members."
In an effort to reassure all the unions, he said: "The AOC has always said that the TPI should be extended to all staff and this is a substantial move forward."
The AOC's insistence is reinforced in a strongly-worded joint letter from the Joint National Forum to Peter Lauener, the Department for Education and Skills' director of learning, delivery and standards. It is signed by Chris Kaufman and Colin Daniels, respective chairs of the union and employer sides.
"In order that there should be no room for doubt, we would like you to know that both sides of the National Joint Forum for Further Education are in agreement that the TPI should be extended with sufficient funds to enable its application to all staff."
In short, both sides are insisting on considerably more than the pound;300m already pledged by ministers over three years for experienced and skilled staff.
Peter Pendle, general secretary of the Association for College Management - one of six unions in the NJF - said ministers would have to pull something considerable out of the hat if they want the goodwill of the other unions.
"I am disappointed. This is not new money but cash top-sliced from the Standards Fund. Second, the Government appears to have backed down in the face of threats."