The transfer of further education colleges from local authority control and the worsening of employment contracts are the subjects of a formal complaint to the European Commission this week.
Following recent "landmark" decisions by the Employment Appeal Tribunal, a breakaway trade union known as the Lecturers Employment Advice and Action Fellowship claims that there is now an even stronger case supporting academics bringing claims over "new and worse" contracts of service in the FE sector.
David Evans, general secretary of LEAF, said a recent case concerning St Helens Borough Council had provided the final piece of evidence needed to establish that new contracts in FE are "illegal". As a result he has filed evidence and a formal complaint to the Commission under article 169 of the Treaty of Rome.
The Industrial Tribunals Law Bulletin agrees that the St Helens tribunal ruling has "far-reaching implications". The ruling seems to establish that any detrimental or unfavourable variation in the terms and conditions of employment will be void and of no effect if it can be established that the transfer of employment is the reason for the worsened conditions.
"It seems that such a link will almost always be established where the employee has merely worked under terms which were varied at the time of the transfer and by reason of the transfer," the bulletin says.
LEAF, which claims around 200 members nationally, has always held that incorporation of colleges was part of an overall plan to worsen terms and conditions in the FE sector. Following a lengthy dispute, new contracts in the FE sector have now widely replaced the old "silver book" conditions.
"There is a clear relationship between the St Helens case and events in the FE sector," Mr Evans said. "We too have been subject to a transfer of employer and there have been a number of instances where staff have been forced to accept new and worse conditions on threat of dismissal. Success on this issue is now a distinct possibility and the recent tribunal ruling simply serves to corroborate a view that we have held for some considerable time."