Natfhe to ballot on strike action

September 25, 1998

Members of lecturers' union Natfhe will be asked next month whether they would be willing to strike if they reject a draft agreement with employers on contracts.

The union has been discussing with branches the draft agreement, which could mark the end of a five-year dispute over pay and conditions. It will send out postal ballots after its further education sector conference on October 3.

A meeting of Natfhe's national executive further education committee last Saturday endorsed the recent talks with the Association of Colleges and agreed that the offer reached was the best that could be achieved through negotiation.

It would introduce a national framework setting minimum standards of employment, including limiting teaching hours to between 800 and 880 a year, with the freedom for colleges to vary working conditions locally.

Paul Mackney, Natfhe's general secretary, said: "If people don't like that agreement - and it's very understandable if they don't - getting back into talking will require a lot more than one-day actions or localised one-day disputes of the sort that existed in the higher education sector."

He said members would be asked if they would support a programme of nationally organised industrial action, starting with a week of strikes, lobbies and demonstrations, should the agreement be rejected.

Mr Mackney said it was important for members to assess the agreement on more than just teaching hours. It also contains clauses on harassment, bullying and recruitment procedures.

The view of the AoC, which has conducted regional seminars on the background to the draft agreement, is that it has met with "cautious support" overall.

Baroness Blackstone, minister for higher education, has written to the AoC and Natfhe welcoming the agreement and saying "a national framework to replace the Silver Book is long overdue".

The AoC is to gauge the strength of support for the agreement through a questionnaire to colleges at the end of next month.

A new federal structure for further and higher education unions would be cost-effective and help recruit and retain members, according to a paper by Natfhe.

Natfhe favours a strong federation linking it with the Association of University Teachers, while the AUT prefers autonomous unions for further and higher education.

In a response to a report by independent overseer Bill McCall, Natfhe argues that: Special financial services and discounts are likely to be better the larger the organisation A federal structure would avoid duplicating information Equal opportunities, legal, health, safety and pensions services would be more effective A joint voice for FE and HE would be stronger internationally Combined communications and public relations could be more cost-effective.

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