LEAF, with branches in around 80 colleges, is preparing to go to court over the right to paid leave for full and part-time staff.
Under the Working Time Regulations - the European employment law directive which came into effect in the UK in November 1998 - all employees in the public sector have a right to three weeks' annual paid leave - rising to four weeks since last
Despite a series of letters to Baroness Blackstone, minister for further and higher education, LEAF failed to persuade her that colleges are "emanations of the state" - the key definition needed to make the law applicable.
The directive should have been introduced in the UK in 1996 but was delayed two years by the previous government. However, European directives have immediate effect on any employee of an "emanation of the state" - meaning that lecturers employed full-time since 1996 would now be entitled to a total of 12 weeks' paid leave.
LEAF says the former Department for Education actually acknowledged this status in a letter to colleges in 1992. The letter to all college principals, says that theAcquired Rights Directives "apply and have direct effect in relation to the proposed transfer of further education institutions from local education authorities."
LEAF's general secretary David Evans said: "It is therefore clear that the DFE itself already conceded the position that colleges throughout England and Wales must be classified as emanations of the state."
Mr Evans said the refusal of the Government to recognise these rights was a "legal sleight of hand". "Frankly, I am astounded by the way in which Baroness Blackstone is seeking to sidestep the very important matters we have brought to her attention."
A judgment is expected next month in the landmark employment tribunal case, Ralton and others versus Havering College, over whether lecturers should have been allowed to maintain their Silver Book terms and conditions at incorporation. At the tribunal hearing, LEAF's case, in support of Ralton, was bolstered when lawyers for the Association of Colleges accepted that colleges were emanations of the state.
A spokesperson for the DFEE said: "We have pointed out to them that FE colleges are independent employers and it is up to them to ensure that they meet their responsibilities to staff. But we are willing to look at evidence of non-compliance."