College lecturers who refuse to abandon local authority working conditions are under attack in two disputes between employers and unions that are seen as test cases for the survival of Silver Book contracts.
Acas has been called in by lecturers' union Natfhe at Chippenham College where all but two of the last Silver Book holders signed new contracts under threat of dismissal.
And Natfhe is asking Merrist Wood agricultural college, Surrey, to reveal the financial reasons behind the dismissal of six lecturers and their replacement with lower-paid "practical instructors".
Natfhe said both cases were further evidence of employers' disdain for staff who sought to preserve their conditions of service. The Colleges Employers Forum recently said that Silver Book holders will receive no annual pay rise for the second year running.
Paula Lanning, Natfhe spokeswoman, said: "Our members will not be intimidated by these bully-boy tactics. Our central concern for people who have stood up for proper workload arrangements is the quality of the service." She added that a third of colleges had reached or were about to reach a locally negotiated transfer to new contracts after the failure of national talks.
CEF chief executive Roger Ward predicted the cases were "two of the final steps in the demise of the Silver Book". But he said decisions on hiring and firing staff were left to individual college corporations in the light of their own business situation.
He added: "Circumstances will vary from college to college. There are already a few thousand redundancies throughout the sector and colleges will wish to consider the view of those who refuse to sign the new contract in the light of the Chippenham College experience."
Chippenham principal Graham Baskerville leads the employers' side in national contracts and pay talks. His ultimatum to the 12 remaining Silver Book staff to sign new contracts by last Friday (July 28) was still being resisted this week by two lecturers and he has told Natfhe he wants to dismiss them in December.
Mr Baskerville said: "This was a contracts issue 18 months ago. When we asked people to transfer this time round it was for sound business reasons. The real argument in individual colleges is whether it is essential to effect a transfer to survive for business reasons."
John Akker, Natfhe general secretary, this week wrote to Merrist Wood principal John Riddle asking for evidence of the college's financial situation. Mr Riddle wants six voluntary and six compulsory redundancies among lecturers, to be replaced by eight practical instructors. The Natfhe branch is to ballot on strike action. Mr Akker was unavailable for comment.