Nearly a third of colleges in England and Wales have moved to locally-agreed employment contracts as London lecturers threaten industrial action over pay.
The latest survey of the sector by the lecturers' union NATFHE reveals 110 colleges have struck deals to replace the Silver Book contracts dating back to the era of local authority control.
The deals mean that some lecturers will have received their first wage rise in two years as staff employed on Silver Book contracts had their salary frozen in 1994.
The union has not agreed a pay claim with the Colleges' Employers' Forum, the body representing college managers, since 1993 when colleges were incorporated. The CEF controversially encouraged employers to swap the Silver Book for a "flexible" model contract with increased teaching hours and fewer holidays, but NATFHE strongly opposed the move.
NATFHE is now planning to submit national pay claims for 1996-97 to college managers in a campaign to reinstate collective bargaining.
Meanwhile London region officials have written to all colleges in the capital demanding a retrospective rise for 1995.
The letters - which mean London colleges will receive two claims for different years virtually simultaneously - threaten industrial action if last year's pay claim is not met in full. It is understood that industrial action ballots have already taken place at eight colleges. Results are not yet available.
The new NATFHE survey shows the number of colleges agreeing local pay deals with lecturers has speeded up. In September only 66 colleges had negotiated new contracts, covering just under half of all FE lecturers, while two-thirds are now covered by new deals.
The pattern of settlements varies considerably - 18 West Midlands colleges, a third of the total, have reached agreements, while only four out of 36 Yorkshire and Humberside colleges have done so.
Both the union and the CEF have insisted the local deals closely match their own demands. One key sticking point in the national negotiations, which broke down last year, was the CEF refusal to allow maximum weekly teaching hours to be stated in contracts.
According to the NATFHE survey, all but eight of the local agreements have a top limit of between 20 and 30 hours a week. Sue Berryman, national negotiating secretary, said: "What the CEF is saying does not reflect the reality of what is being agreed on the ground." The deals offered lecturers protection and employers flexibility, she claimed.
One of the latest to settle is Bedford College where 62 lecturers were threatened with dismissal after refusing to sign new contracts. Sixth-form colleges introduced new-style lecturing contracts in 1994 with less pain than FE and tertiary counterparts.