Strikes cloud Acas contract talks

May 12, 1995

A row erupted this week between lecturers' union Natfhe and employers over the continued use of strike action while talks carry on at Acas to solve the college contracts dispute.

Roger Ward, chief executive of the Colleges Employers Forum, said yesterday that coordinated local walkouts would only make a national settlement less likely.

Talks continued at Acas on Wednesday with neither side releasing details, although Mr Ward said he thought there would be a resolution of the two-year wrangle "one way or another" this month.

"It is a cause for concern that sections of Natfhe think it is helpful to strike during the Acas conciliation process," said Mr Ward. "The actual effect is in reverse - the more industrial action there is, the less chance of a settlement there is."

But John Akker, general secretary of Natfhe, said: "Last September Natfhe did suspend industrial action in the hope we would get some settlement of the dispute. There is immense anger among many further education lecturers and they want to express that anger at the CEF directly."

Ken Ruddiman, principal of Sheffield College, one of the largest of ten further education colleges striking this week in a national day of action warned that unless a national agreement was reached, compulsory as opposed to voluntary redundancies might be at stake.

"I hope there is a national agreement. Otherwise we shall have to operate our timetable for next year which has to be set in the next three weeks on existing conditions of service. This will mean a far less generous voluntary redundancy package and the possibility of compulsory redundancies," Mr Ruddiman said. Management is seeking 300 redundancies at the college.

Seb Schmoeller, branch secretary of Natfhe at the college, which has more than 800 Natfhe members, said that local negotiations with the management had broken down over class-contact hours and safeguards.

"We offered 800 hours as an annual limit on teaching duties. This is a 15 per cent increase in productivity but the college, although ready to accept this privately, was not prepared to turn it into a binding agreement," Mr Schmoeller said.

The strike, which has brought Sheffield College to a virtual standstill, comes at an embarrassing time as it is being inspected by the Further Education Funding Council.

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