Action over 2.5 per cent pay offer could be stepped up if demands for parity with schoolteachers are not met
A day of protest will be held across the country as lecturers press for equal pay with schoolteachers.
With further talks scheduled for June 5, the University and College Union (UCU) said the protests would take place outside colleges the previous day - but it will stop short of taking industrial action until further discussions have taken place with employers.
The Association of Colleges (AoC) has offered a pay rise of 2.5 per cent - a higher initial offer than in previous years - but the UCU said it was in a strong position to press for more, with other unions prepared to offer support in a national day of demonstrations.
The Association for College Management, Unison, Unite, the GMB and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers are all demanding a better deal for lecturers and non-teaching staff in colleges.
Barry Lovejoy, head of colleges at the UCU, said details of the protests, which could take place during the lunch hour, are still to be worked out, but the aim will be to bring the FE pay issue to the attention of the wider public.
"I think it is significant that the unions are coming together on this," he said. "I know we have the support of the students, and I am sure most of the colleges will take part - most of them having taken part in the strike."
While the other unions have not voted for industrial action, the UCU held a one-day strike which coincided with the action of the National Union of Teachers on April 24.
The UCU is calling for 6 per cent or pound;1,500, whichever is the greater, to narrow the gap with schoolteachers, who are estimated to be paid as much as 10 per cent more than their colleagues in further education.
It said inflation in the real cost of living had depleted the standard of living of lecturers and other staff in colleges.
The AoC has defended the 2.5 per cent offer as reasonable.
Previous national pay agreements have been bedevilled by variations in colleges' willingness to translate them into actual increases for their staff - the talks being non-binding on the employers' side.
Evan Williams, head of employment policy at the AoC, said: "The pay recommendation made today to the national joint forum is a part of the annual negotiations process.
"The recommendation of 2.5 per cent on all salaries and allowances represents a well-considered and affordable increase for colleges in light of the current indicative funding allocations.
"In addition to the recommendation, the AoC today committed to developing further work on issues including working time and training and development.
"Negotiations will continue on June 5."
The activities on June 4 will be designed not to interrupt college courses, but the UCU could carry out further industrial action after that date, the ballot for the one-day strike having been open-ended.
Chris Fabby, national officer for Unison and secretary of the unions' side in the pay negotiations, said: "We reject this offer outright - 2.5 per cent is just not enough.
"This year, our members have been struggling to cope with huge hikes in the cost of essentials, such as fuel, food and housing.
"The employers must get back around the negotiating table with a more realistic offer. We need a fairer deal for the low paid, who can earn as little as pound;12,738 per year."