FE dispute needs flexible friendship

April 7, 1995

I agree with David Bunch's rejection of "gratuitous personal attacks" (THES, March 24) but note he goes on to describe managers who do not share his view of the FE dispute as "faltering voices".

As a local and national Natfhe negotiator I have always recognised that disputes are solved through negotiation and compromise. Declining resources means working staff harder and changing course delivery. Increased flexibility is essential.

Lecturers have worked hard to accommodate new courses, new methods and, above all, huge increases in student numbers. Illness and stress is widespread.

The problem with the Colleges Employers' Forum is not one of approach. Their strategy has been, not to negotiate, but to slap down a "new contract" and say "take it or leave it". They have refused to discuss any contractual limitation on weekly or annual teaching hours. Lecturers are prepared to change, they are prepared to be more flexible but they, and any sensible manager, know that an unrestricted teaching workload can only lead to illness, stress and a poor quality service.

Settlements acceptable to both sides have been reached in several colleges. My own is close to one. If only the constructive, flexible and innovative approach adopted in Newcastle could be repeated nationally, perhaps with the help of ACAS, this dispute could be settled by the summer. Let us have no personal attacks, no dismissive references. Let us just get down to hard talking.

PETER LATHAM

Whitfield Road, Newcastle

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