College staff are claiming a 6 per cent pay rise, despite job cuts and wage freezes across the economy and falling FE funding allocations.
Figures to support the pay claim, compiled by the six unions representing staff ranging from managers to caterers, show that pay in FE has lagged behind rises elsewhere in the public and private sectors for the past decade.
While wages rose by 47 per cent on average in the private sector and just over 41 per cent in other parts of the public sector during the past 10 years, lecturers and college managers have received just under 22 per cent, according to the unions.
Barry Lovejoy, head of further education at the University and College Union, said the Government should increase the funding for colleges to cover a substantial pay rise for 2009-10, if necessary.
He said: "With millions of adults looking to retrain during the economic downturn, further education staff have never been more important to this country.
"I don't think there is anything to be gained by cutting back on wages in a recession. We learned that lesson in the 1920s.
"Funding problems are not new to FE. If we took account every year of whenever there was a funding crisis, we would never get to put in a pay claim at all."
Dearne Valley College lecturers went on strike recently over failure to implement the 2004 pay structure fully, despite what Sue Ransom, the principal, said were rises above the Association of Colleges' recommendation in other years.
She said a large salary increase was unlikely in a year where she had Pounds 800,000 of unfunded students. "I would pay them lots more if I could afford it," she said. "It has never been as overwhelming and uncertain as now for colleges."