Union meltdown over job losses;FE Focus

14th May 1999 at 01:00
A VIRTUALLY unanimous vote of no confidence has been passed by the executive of the College Lecturers' Association in Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the CLA's parent union, the Educational Institute of Scotland.

It emerged this week that the CLA leadership is furious with Mr Smith for refusing repeated requests to explain his "disgraceful" actions in signing an agreement with Clydebank College last year which led to more than 30 redundancies among lecturers.

The dissidents acknowledged that their move was unusual. But they add in their Fightback newsletter: "Ultimately the choice facing the executive was to be held in contempt by its own employees or to condemn his actions. It chose the latter only after months of frustration."

Mr Smith declined to comment. The EIS leadership believes repeated explanations and justifications were given of the urgent need to reach agreement at Clydebank by Marian Healy, the union's further education officer, and Ian McCalman, the then president.

Spats between the CLA and the main union are not unusual but this is the first time the left-leaning FE executive has gone as far as passing a motion of no confidence in the union's general secretary. The running sore continued to fester at the CLA's weekend annual conference, which heard repeated calls for stronger EIS backing for branches whose members are threatened with redundancy.

Reid Kerr College, where protracted negotiations are continuing, is a current flashpoint.

There was resentment, expressed by Donny Gluckstein of Stevenson College in Edinburgh, that the CLA executive had to play second fiddle to the powerful EIS finance and general purposes committee. Only this "inner cabinet" has the authority to sanction industrial disputes.

Joe Eyre, a leading CLA firebrand who was attending his last conference after claiming he was pushed out of Glasgow's Langside College for political reasons, appealed for "trust and negotiation" between the CLA and the main body. This was intended as a pointed rebuke to John Patton, EIS national vice-president, whose speech called for "trust and negotiation" to be re-established .

The employers often had to take second place to the EIS leadership in CLA demonisation, but they did not escape. Several speakers complained that appraisal scores and observation of lecturers at work were being covertly but deliberately misused.

"Staff are being selected for redundancy because their areas of work are not making a profit for the college," Linda Wheeler of Moray College said. "It's a kind of institutional ethnic cleansing."

Isaac MacKay of Reid Kerr College in Paisley said the reorganised curriculum there is partly intended to "encourage" lecturers working in areas where students might not take up courses to volunteer for redundancy with the offer of better terms.

Margaret Ferguson, the CLA chair at Reid Kerr, suggested the college was being "downsized" to create redundancies by failing to advertise courses fully.

Eleanor Ramsay of South Lanarkshire College said staff at the Cambuslang campus who had to have varicose veins operated on had been chosen for redundancy. "They were part-time and they were women, and that is a huge issue for us," she said.

But cries of persecution turned to an equally familiar refrain, as Mrs Wheeler called for the EIS leadership to give the CLA more autonomy to resist redundancies. This is usually code for refusing to negotiate on job losses, backed by industrial action.

Leader, page 18

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