The Association of Teachers and Lecturers has thrown in its lot with the employers in the Association of Colleges, intending to lobby ministers, after accepting the 2.5 per cent pay offer for the 5,000 lecturers it represents. But the 70,000-strong union NATFHE has rejected the offer and will hold a national ballot for industrial action next term. It will mount its own national campaign and lobby of Parliament.
All parties are agreed that more cash - in addition to Welfare to Work money - is needed to reverse damage they say has been done by "efficiency" cuts over the past three years. But the conflicting tactics will send out damaging signals at a time when ministers are looking for unity from the sector.
The depth of the split between the unions was illustrated this week when Gerald Imison, deputy secretary of ATL, said: "NATFHE is fighting the wrong battle. This is a good pay deal, better than school teachers have won. It shows the employers' willingness to address long-term decline in salaries."
But Sue Berryman, NATFHE negotiating secretary, said the pay offer required lecturers to sign the "wholly unacceptable" contract with the AOC which the ATL signed earlier this year and which included a range of minimum weekly teaching hours from 23 to 27. She accused the AOC of "failing to take the opportunity of the new political environment for a return to sensible bargaining for a national framework building on local contracts".
Marcia Roberts, AOC director of professional services, said: "We have reached pay settlements for managers and lecturers with the ATL and Association for College Management. And we expect a settlement with the three support staff unions within the week."