DUMFRIES and Galloway has become the latest Scottish college to face industrial action from lecturers over pay.
The move, supported by 98.5 per cent of Educational Institute of Scotland members who voted, means the college is now the 20th out of the 46 in Scotland to have a ballot authorising action conducted in the past six years. The first in a series of four-day strikes was held on Tuesday.
The EIS says the college pays the lowest salaries for lecturing staff in Scotland. The top of the lecturers' scale is pound;23,802 - pound;5,269 behind the best paying college in 2002-03. The union says its members have not had a rise since August 1999 which put them pound;2,003 behind average salaries last year.
Ronnie Smith, EIS general secretary, hit out at the college's failure to pay a fair salary. He said they had worked until the last minute to achieve a negotiated settlement but the management had chosen to show "lack of appreciation for a hard-working, positive and progressive workforce who have consistently contributed to the overall success of the college".
But the college made it clear in a statement that "ongoing financial security" is its main concern. It has been battling to reduce a pound;900,000 operating loss incurred in 1999-2000 and is now projecting a pound;5,000 surplus for the current year. Its earlier problems were compounded by higher than average staff costs.
The college said the union had been offered a 5 per cent increase over two years linked to productivity gains, while the EIS had demanded 16 per cent over three years, including a no-strings 4 per cent element this year. This would have returned the college to a deficit, the statement said.
The college has now made a new offer of 3 per cent without strings, followed by Acas-brokered negotiations on contracts. This and other changes could give lecturers at the top of the scale an extra pound;1,000.
Tony Jakimciw, Dumfries and Galloway's principal, said: "We have tried very hard to negotiate a pay award, which reflects the board's commitment to move towards the sector average as soon as possible, but at a pace which reflects the college's ability to pay. Our ongoing financial security is essential to us maintaining our curriculum provision to our students."
Mr Smith said EIS members were concerned at the impact of the dispute on students' education but added: "Every professional has a right to expect a fair salary for the work that they do and it is clear that Dumfries and Galloway lecturers are not being fairly paid."