THE embattled management of Inverness College wants unions to agree to a pound;350,000 reduction in its salary bill, which will breach a pay deal and cut hourly rates for part-time lecturers.
The plans are part of a pound;500,000 savings package of "minimum pain" aimed at reducing a deficit which otherwise is heading beyond pound;4 million.
The college, a key player in the ambitions for the University of the Highlands and Islands, is in close contact not only with the Scottish Further Education Funding Council but also with the Royal Bank of Scotland.
The College Lecturers' Association at the college has been notably conciliatory - a measure of the new climate Graham Clark has been striving to establish since took over as principal last year following the turbulent reign of Janet Price.
A spokesman for the CLA, which is part of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said it was "sympathetic" to Dr Clark whose inheritance was worse than he thought before he arrived, when he had been expecting a deficit of pound;2.5 million.
Dr Clark said savings on the salary bill, together with reductions in non staff expenditure, had been drawn up in an attempt to avoid redundancies. "Past measures have not done the job of getting us out of the red and weare still spending pound;500,000 a year more than we can afford."
Despite the promises of no redundancies and full consultation, however, the prospect of a further erosion in salaries will be a bitter pill to swallow in a college where lecturers claim they are already the lowest paid in the country. The management's proposals would mean abandoning a three-year pay agreement set at the rate of inflation plus 1 per cent, which is only in its first year.
The CLA branch is also worried that cutting hourly rates for part-time staff from up to pound;20 to pound;15 will simply encourage the college to hire the cheapest staff, thus reinforcing job casualisation.
Other casualties will be staff in posts with conserved salaries which the management now wants to reduce. Lecturers fear the overall effect on their pensions from the erosion of salaries.
But Dr Clark said: "The carrot for our staff is that acceptance of this package would put us into surplus for the next financial year, providing the college with the ongoing stability which is in the best interests of staff and students alike.
The CLA is likely to argue for another joint approach with management to the Scottish Executive, a tactic that has not been successful in the past.