Redundancy sparks strike

9th March 2001 at 00:00
As a union branch secretary loses his job, members join others in industrial action, reports Steve Hook.

LECTURERS have voted for a one-day strike to take place on Monday after their union branch secretary was made redundant.

Len Weiss lost his job when his City and Guilds photography course was axed at Redbridge College, leaving 25 students to look elsewhere to complete their studies. Of these, 16 were at the end of the first year of the course, leading to NVQ level 1, and 10 were half way through the two-year NVQ level 2 stage.

Mr Weiss was chairman of the college's branch of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education.

The college, in Romford, Essex, refuses to comment on his case because it is expected to be taken to an employment tribunal.

The union is also in dispute over workloads at the college, demanding new contracts giving lecturers a guaranteed maximum number of hours per week.

"There has been an unprecedented number of staff resignations this term, which impacts negatively on both students and remaining staff morale," said Elizabeth Martins, NATFHE's Anglia regional official.

Tony McGrath, the college's principal, said "industrial action of any type would be regretted" but insists the institution is "performing better on morale, workload, pay and consultation than other colleges nationally.

"Where the college is not doing so well, the governors are active in setting an improvement agenda," he added.

NATFHE members are also considering industrial action at Colchester Institute after the college's board agreed changes which would see the loss of some full-time A-level course and around 50 redundancies.

Liberal Democrat Bob Russell, Colchester's MP, will chair a public meeting about the plans in the town on Monday and negotiations are continuing with college management. "I am very concerned about what is happening at the college," said Mr Russell.

"I think turning public institutions into self-perpetuating quangos cannot be right in a democratic society.

"We have excellent educational provision in Colchester and the college has very much been part of that.

"But the college should be serving the interests of the whole community and that includes those who perhaps missed out earlier in life and want to go back to studying to get academic qualifications."

Colchester's principal, Helen Parr, has resigned to take over as principal of Oaklands College in St Albans, Hertfordshire, where NATFHE is in negotiation over expected redundancies.

Half-day strikes took place on Thursday and Friday last week at Barnet College, north London, where NATFHE is in dispute over new contracts introduced when the college merged with Hendon in August 2000.

"It is generally accepted, even by the Government, that further education lecturers have suffered more than any other set of teachers over the past decade," said a NATFHE spokesman.

"What is desperately needed is a better contract, not a worse one."

The union also plans a picket of the next college corporation meeting, in March, to protest against the proposed closure of Barnet's bakery and sugarcraft section.

It says its members have even offered to accept pay cuts in return for a reduction in what it describes as "unbearable" workloads.

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