LECTURERS have accused a cash-strapped Midlands college of holding a gun to their heads in a battle over contracts.
Twenty-one staff at Bournville College of Further Education have until April 11 to sign new contracts or face possible dismissal. Lecturers' union Natfhe is balloting for industrial action.
The 21 lecturers concerned are on so-called Silver Book contracts, which entitle them to longer holidays and a shorter working week than their colleagues on new contracts. Signing the new contracts would increase workloads, cut four weeks from holiday entitlement and enforce Saturday, and occasionally Sunday, working.
Patricia Twyman, principal of the college, stressed that no ultimatum had been given to the staff or redundancies announced. But she said that if staff failed to sign the new contracts by April 11 then they will go before a governors' committee, which will take the next step. This might be to dismiss the lecturers and then re-employ them on new contracts.
A Natfhe spokesman said: "We are disgusted by these furtively organised attacks on staff. If these changes go ahead there will be huge increases in sickness and ill-health retirement. Students will suffer because of an exodus of experienced staff and unreasonable workloads for those remaining."
The union claims that Ms Twyman had previously said she would not enforce new contracts. But since then the college has hit a funding crisis and expects to have a Pounds 1.5 million deficit this year, largely because of a Pounds 1 million bill for previous redundancies.
Ms Twyman said the college also faced the prospect next year of teaching more students with less money. The Government's decision to cease paying for demand led element (DLE) funding, which has allowed colleges to recoup some of the costs of extra student recruitment, only compounded the problem. She said that it was no longer possible to have less productive Silver Book staff.
Marcia Roberts, director of professional services for the Association of Colleges, said that around 30 colleges were engaging in the perfectly legal tactic of dismissal and re-engagement in order to force unwilling employees into new contracts. She said: "As the funding pressures build these Silver Book people stand out."