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The BBC's Kim Catcheside
"It is not really certain how many will go on strike"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 22 May, 2001, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
Lecturers' strike condemned
lecture
FE lecturers want a flat rate rise of 3,000
Strike action by lecturers at further education colleges - as thousands of students prepare for exams - has been condemned as "irresponsible".

Students at up to 290 colleges in England and Wales faced disruption as members of the lecturers' union, Natfhe, staged a one-day strike on Tuesday over pay.


We don't think it is right to disrupt our students' education by industrial action, especially in the run-up to exams

Tony Thompson, PAT
The lecturers have rejected a 3% pay offer from their employers - represented by the Association of Colleges (AoC) - and are demanding a flat rate rise of 3,000 for all FE lecturers and managers.

Figures from Natfhe suggest some FE lecturers start on an annual salary as low as 13,745, rising to 25,000 at the top of the scale.

This compares to figures from the Department for Education which show a new graduate recruit into the school teaching profession would start on 17,000 outside London or 20,000 in inner London, raising to 31,000 or 34,000, respectively, at the top of the scale.

A ballot held earlier this month by Natfhe saw a turnout of 50%, with 65% voting in favour of action.

'Solid'

The union said the action by 30,000 lecturers was "exceptionally solid".

"In all, 290 colleges were called out and the majority have heeded the call. I would say there is very little teaching going on in FE colleges today," a union spokeswoman said.

The strike will be followed by other disruptive non-strike action, backed by 86% of voters in the ballot.

Condemnation

But Natfhe faced criticism from the AoC, the Professional Association of Teachers (PAT) and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).

The ATL's deputy general secretary, Gerald Imison, said that, while the union understood Natfhe's frustration, the action was premature.

"We are concerned that industrial action will make it more difficult to achieve a higher offer.


The last thing we want to do is harm the students we teach

Paul Mackney, Natfhe
"We are deeply concerned by the serious decline in the salaries of college lecturers but we do not see the advantage of interrupting the education process at such a crucial time for students," Mr Imison said.

Professional officer for PAT, Tony Thompson, agreed the pay and conditions of the average FE lecturer had worsened since 1993, relative to school teachers and other professionals.

But improvements could come only by negotiation, Mr Thompson said.

"We do not believe that industrial action by others will help.

"We don't think it is right to disrupt our students' education by industrial action, especially in the run-up to exams," he said.

'Irresponsible'

Coming as students prepared for important exams, the AoC described the strike as "irresponsible".

Only a minority of staff had wanted the action, the association said.


Many colleges simply are not in a position to pay the sums that Natfhe is demanding

Ivor Jones, AoC
The action was also premature, as national pay negotiations were still underway, the AoC's director of employment policy, Ivor Jones said.

Industrial action was not the way to secure additional funding for pay from government, Mr Jones.

"The future lies in continuing sensible dialogue and joint pressure on government to address the gross historical imbalance in funding which leaves colleges the poor relation of schools and universities," Mr Jones said.

"Many colleges simply are not in a position to pay the sums that Natfhe is demanding.

"If they did so, the consequences would be debt, and possible redundancies - including of their own members," he said.

'Respect'

But Natfhe's general secretary, Paul Mackney, said: "Our members are demanding a little respect and recognition for what they've achieved - a 70% increase in student numbers over the last five years".

They had seen their pay fall 10% behind that of school teachers, who were themselves not satisfied, Mr Mackney said.

Lecturers did not take strike action lightly, he stressed.

"The last thing we want to do is harm the students we teach. At the end of the day, they'll get a better deal if they are taught by lecturers who feel valued.

"We hope this message will be heard, not only in colleges but also on the election campaign trail," he added.

The action included rallies in London, Birmingham, Newcastle and Manchester and a lobby of the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff.

The action by FE staff comes as members of Natfhe in the higher education sector ("new universities") were recommended to give a "reluctant acceptance" to a 4.3% pay offer from the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association (UCEA).

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See also:

10 May 01 | Education
College lecturers vote to strike
05 Dec 00 | Education
University staff work to rule
18 Dec 00 | Education
Union anger over 'missing' wage rise
15 Jan 01 | Education
Lecturers' action hits student nurses
18 Jan 00 | Education
Lecturers demand 30% pay rise
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