Strike action stepped up

5th October 2007 at 01:00
Union accuses college of privatising staff

recruitment without proper consultation. Neil Munro reports

edinburgh's telford College has hit back angrily at union claims it is creating a "two-tier workforce" by hiving off the recruitment of temporary lecturing staff to a private agency.

The Educational Institute of Scotland has now stepped up its programme of strike action, which began last week, to two days a week. If there is no resolution, the dispute is set to continue at this level until mid-December when three days of action are planned from December 11-13.

The union is protesting against the college's agreement with Protocol National to provide temporary staff, which it claims was imposed without proper consultation.

Kirsty Devaney, EIS president and herself an FE lecturer, said the change would force temporary lecturers to become self-employed contractors. The union alleges this would involve a cut in pay, the loss of pension rights and a lack of access to opportunities for professional development.

"The creation of a two-tier workforce will have a serious and damaging impact on the morale of lecturers, and will also damage the quality of the educational experience available to students at the college," she added.

Mrs Devaney said the English-based agency had limited knowledge of the local labour market in Edinburgh, and it had failed to solve any recruitment problems at the college. "It is a serious indictment of the management at the college that they feel they have to hand over some of their own management duties, and thousands of pounds of public money, to a profit-making company based hundreds of miles away," the EIS president commented.

Aberdeen College, the second largest in Scotland, is the main employer of Protocol National north of the border, while more than 200 colleges in England work with the agency to recruit staff.

Greg Irving, depute principal of Edinburgh's Telford College, said it was "entirely misleading" for the EIS to refer to "two tiers of staff" since all Scottish colleges have temporary staff and using Protocol National was simply "an alternative way to manage the situation".

He added: "Over the last few months, we have offered permanent positions to over 60 formerly temporary staff members, all of which have been accepted. It is also important to stress that pay rates for Protocol National staff are aligned to those pay rates that have been agreed by the EIS and are therefore exactly the same as for permanent staff members."

Mr Irving also took issue with the EIS claim that there had been no proper consultation over the changes. He said the union had refused to meet senior manage-ment at the college and had turned down mediation: "We have made substantial adjustments to the original model to make it acceptable to the EIS, but they have made no attempt to make this work and absolutely no concession to trying to find a mutually agreeable solution."

As well as the war of words, the two sides have traded a war of figures to justify the support or lack of it for strike action. The EIS says "overwhelming" backing came from 127 lecturers out of the 142 who voted, 89 per cent of those voting.

The college management points out there are 207 EIS members on the college staff, which is around three-quarters of all lecturers. The 127 who voted to strike represents 61 per cent of EIS members less than 50 per cent of lecturers in total.

By chance, the first week of strike action coincided with an HMIE report on the college which gave it a string of "very good" and "good" scores for its performance. Educational leadership, direction and management was rated "very good."

The only negative note was in business, management and administration , which was judged "fair" but this was for student achievements in these subjects, not in those particular aspects of how the college is run.

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