Up to a fifth of further education colleges could face industrial action by teaching staff over pay next term, lecturers' union leaders predicted this week.
This is the proportion of colleges lecturers' union Natfhe is expecting will not have signed an agreement for a 3.3 per cent pay rise, backdated to August, by next February.
A Natfhe survey found about half of colleges had signed the agreement between unions and employers' representatives so far. Eighteen per cent of local union leaders who responded to the survey said their institution was waiting to see how it performed against enrolment and other targets before making a decision on pay.
Barry Lovejoy, Natfhe national official for further education, said: "We are calling on employers to honour their pledge to campaign for the implementation of the national agreement. And we have advised our branches that if they have not received the agreed pay increase by next year they should consider balloting for industrial action. A growing number of colleges are getting to that position."
Mr Lovejoy said the issue was complicated by the fact that the sector had been promised significant funding increases by the government, and that even some of the colleges that signed the agreement might be paying below national levels because they had not honoured pay increases in previous years.
Sue Berryman, Natfhe's further education spokeswoman, added: "What kind of national agreement is it when barely half of colleges implement it?" The Association of Colleges, which represents college heads, agreed that about half had signed up.
A spokeswoman said the extra £1 billion for further education, announced by education secretary David Blunkett last week, would help colleges fund pay increases, but many were still struggling with debt.