The "shining light" of college reform could be extinguished if the government does not increase its pressure on colleges to deliver national bargaining, according to the boss of the union representing Scottish college lecturers.
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS union, said that progress towards a deal - which would mean pay rates across the further education sector being set nationally for the whole of Scotland - had faltered and become "bogged down".
The college sector had been under "significant pressure over the past period", he said, and the cuts in FE had been "manifest and damaging". The sector had also experienced "unease" during the "significant restructuring", he added.
Mr Flanagan made his remarks in a column published in the June edition of the Scottish Left Review. He said that regionalisation had not in itself been unwelcome but there had been no "real educational rationale underpinning the mergers".
He added that the restructuring of the sector seemed to have led "to added layers of bureaucracy". But he argued that the "faltering progress with regard to a return to national bargaining" was of particular concern.
"Although early developments were promising, and a National Recognition and Procedure Agreement developed, the process now seems to be bogged down in a stand-off between colleges and government on funding," he said. "Political intervention is required and urgently."
A return to national bargaining was one of the reforms enshrined in the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Act in 2013. As a result, the National Joint Negotiating Committee (NJNC) was set up, with members including representatives of college management and the four recognised unions in the sector. It has held meetings since last summer.
But in May, the EIS announced that it had lodged a dispute with college employers over lecturers' pay, citing "failure to make a reasonable pay offer in 2015-16 NJNC negotiations".
`It will take time'
Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, insisted that the sector was committed to reintroducing national bargaining and that progress was being made.
She said: "Having had local bargaining for more than 20 years within the college sector, it will understandably take time to put the new proposed national arrangements in place.
"We have to ensure that all colleges are engaged and fully informed about the new arrangements, and all colleges have to formally sign up; it takes time to go through the necessary governance processes and procedures."
She added that achieving an acceptable national pay offer would be "challenging given the current funding allocation to the sector, but we are working to find a realistic solution".
Mr Flanagan this week told TESS that the union remained hopeful that the return to national bargaining would lead to "a satisfactory outcome". He said: "It would be deeply ironic if it precipitated a national pay dispute and I would call on colleges and the Scottish government to ensure that an acceptable pay offer avoids that scenario."
A Scottish government spokesperson said national bargaining would bring "common sense to FE pay and end the unfair system of having 40 different sets of terms and conditions across the country".