Hourly paid part-time lecturers at Birkbeck College's centre for extramural studies are to be balloted for industrial action following changes in their job description and non-recognition of their union, the Extra Mural Part Time Lecturers Association/MSF.
Balloting will take place this month for action, short of striking, in September. This follows the college's decision to change the title of some 600 hourly paid staff from lecturer to college part-time teacher.
Peter Storfer, chair of Emptla/MSF, says the move was designed to undermine conditions of service. The title change may make those involved ineligible for benefits such as pro-rata sickness and maternity which may become available under recent European legislation covering part-timers.
Emptla, which affiliated to MSF a year ago, is angry that the college refuses to recognise it. The college argues that it has a procedural agreement with the Association of University Teachers for negotiations for staff. Patrick Canavan, an MSF London regional officer organising the ballot, said that Emptla had joined MSF because it felt it was more supportive than the AUT.
Mr Storfer says staff are also very concerned at the college's decision to bring the majority of courses into its main funding council provision. They fear that eventually the centre will run only accredited courses.
But Christine Mabey, college secretary, said that the college could not give MSF recognition for negotiation purposes, although it had no objections to staff joining the union. "At our last meeting with the AUT, they made it quite clear that they felt they were the appropriate union to represent both part-time and full-time lecturing staff at the college," she said.
Mrs Mabey said the title change was to ensure that all staff doing the same jobs had the same contracts. She said that unless courses were brought into mainstream provision and accredited, funding would not follow and courses could close.