Leaders of the biggest college lecturers' union may abandon national pay bargaining after talks with employers stalled over a deal for staff still employed on old-style contracts.
The industrial relations committee of NATFHE was meeting today to consider its next move after the Colleges' Employers' Forum imposed a pay freeze on those remaining on local authority Silver Book conditions for the third year running. The CEF offered 2.1 per cent to those on new contracts.
The union is now considering "nationally co-ordinated" industrial action. Although it is against local pay bargaining, officials said "everything was on the table". That is understood to mean a possible move towards negotiating college by college.
The step reflects how much ground NATFHE has been forced to concede. It has already shifted away from national bargaining over contracts after negotiations with the CEF broke down.
It entered into local bargaining on terms and conditions while under the leadership of Geoff Woolf who miscalculated that the move would drive the CEF back to the national negotiating table.
The impasse coincides with a breakdown in talks between the union and local authorities over contracts for further education staff in LEA institutions.
The employers this week withdrew from national bargaining, and the union will now have to negotiate locally.
Local authorities are following colleges' lead in pressing for an end to the Silver Book terms and conditions. Their move to replace the contracts with new "more flexible" deals including a longer working week and fewer holidays is being fought by NATFHE.
Mike Walker, of the local government management board, said: "The LEA adult and community education service needs a more flexible framework to respond to growing competition."
NATFHE chief negotiator Sue Berryman said the union, which has 2,000 members in LEA-run institutions, regretted the employers' decision, and hoped national bargaining might be restored.
The breakdown of the college lecturers' pay negotiations hinged on the CEF's refusal to end the two-year pay freeze imposed on those on Silver Book contracts.
The union has submitted a claim for a Pounds 1,500 flat-rate pay increase for all full-time staff - including those on old-style contracts - for the 1996-97 academic year. It says those on Silver Book conditions should also receive cash to compensate them for the freeze.
The CEF pledged to invite its members to reconsider the offer. CEF chief executive Roger Ward said: "This is the start of the pay round. We will meet again once both sides have reported back."
Though NATFHE is now officially considering nationally-co-ordinated industrial action, union negotiators detected some softening in the approach of the CEF.
The union chose the week of pay negotiations to publish a survey claiming falling salary levels had caused "an enormous slump in morale". It warns unless declining pay is urgently addressed, a major staffing crisis looms.
The study raised the spectre of a mass exodus of qualified lecturers disenchanted with poor pay. Concerns were fuelled by evidence from the survey of an ageing population of FE lecturers.
* NATFHE this week invited the CEF to join its campaign against college under funding. The organisation has yet to respond.