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Ulster colleges face strikes

Ulster lecturers have voted to strike in an attempt to close the pay gap with schoolteachers.

Nearly half of Northern Ireland's 1,800 further education lecturers voted in the ballot, with 75 per cent in favour of striking and 94 per cent supporting industrial action short of a strike.

Jim McKeown, Northern Ireland regional official for Natfhe, the lecturers' union, said: "Our branches will be working to make sure that this action is hard-hitting and effective. We anticipate bullying tactics from some employers and, where this happens, we will retaliate."

In England, the pay gap between colleges and schools would be 6 per cent if the current deal was implemented by all colleges.

It is estimated that the gap is already smaller than this in Northern Ireland, where lecturers get performance-related threshold payments similar to schoolteachers.

Northern Ireland lecturers also want an upper pay spine of the kind that schoolteachers move onto after they cross the pay threshold.

Natfhe in Ulster says lecturers should also get extra pay for special responsibilities.

Northern Irish colleges agree to binding pay talks with the unions but there has been no agreement so far on this year's increase - which was due to take effect in September.

While the binding nature of the pay talks is envied by Natfhe in England, the Northern Irish system also allows for the Department for Education and Learning in Northern Ireland (Delni) to restrict pay because Ulster colleges enjoy less independence from Government than their English counterparts.

Colleges are prevented from agreeing any deal which would result in an average increase of more than 3.5 per cent.

This cap is known as "the Hitler Clause" in the province, where education is currently under direct UK rule during the suspension of the Northern Ireland assembly.

Mr McKeown added: "No offer has been made to lecturers but colleges have organised pay structures to ensure that those at the top can cream off increases up to 3 per cent more than anything lecturers would get.

Lecturers are demanding fair pay and treatment and they are going to fight for it."

John D'Arcy, chief executive of the Association of Northern Ireland Colleges, representing the employers, was not available for comment.

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