Unions and employers have taken a major step towards national deals on pay and conditions for all college staff in Scotland, TESS can reveal.
The landmark agreement concerns the structure of talks that will aim to establish the first national deals on issues including pay rises, working hours and holiday entitlement.
It is hoped that reintroducing collective bargaining for the first time in more than 20 years will clamp down on the wide disparities in pay and conditions that have emerged in recent years. It was also a central recommendation in the review of college governance by Russel Griggs that was published in 2012.
As previously reported in TESS, staff can earn twice as much in some colleges as in others for carrying out similar jobs. Pay for heads of faculty ranges from pound;35,680 to pound;70,000 a year, while student services managers earn between pound;25,570 and pound;53,200, according to figures from the Scottish Funding Council obtained by TESS last summer.
Ultimately the main players in the national bargaining development group, which includes college leaders and trade unions, want more uniform pay rates and working conditions, which could lead to significant changes for some staff.
Ian McKay, lead of the Edinburgh college region, who chairs the development group, told TESS: "I was always hopeful that we would get to an agreement. The most useful thing about it is that it provides a basis for decisions in the sector on a national level that has not existed in 20 years."
Under the plans, a consensus on issues affecting all staff will have to be reached at a central table of representatives of management and all unions. Matters relating specifically to lecturers or support staff can be referred to a sub-committee.
TESS understands that regional college leaders have approved the plans already, while union representatives are in the process of presenting them to their organisations, with agreement expected in the coming weeks.
A spokesman for the EIS, which represents college lecturers, said the agreement had come about "after the hard work of all parties within the national bargaining development group".
He added: "The EIS, in common with other parties, will now pass the proposals through our own internal processes with a view to reaching a formal agreement in the future.
"The delivery of a national framework for collective bargaining will be an important step towards the broader aim of achieving the fairest and best possible pay and conditions for all further education staff."
John Keggie, Scottish organiser for Unison Scotland, which represents support staff, said that the national bargaining structure would provide "a good platform to enable trade unions to address the concerns of those who deliver these essential services".
A spokesman for Unite added that the union was committed to engaging fully in discussions to restore national bargaining.
A Scottish government spokeswoman said: "Following extensive negotiations with the recognised trade unions, a proposed national bargaining structure and remit has been developed which requires formal endorsement by the respective parties."
The spokeswoman added that education secretary Michael Russell welcomed the progress made on this "significant policy priority", and it was anticipated that a final agreement would be confirmed in the next few weeks, "after which implementation will progress through Colleges Scotland".