Further education colleges in Northern Ireland have been warned they could lose 2 per cent of their budgets if they fail to get lecturers to sign new flexible contracts.
The threat comes in a letter from the Northern Ireland Department of Education to the province's five local authorities, mirroring the long controversy over new contracts in England and Wales.
A department spokesman said it was observing Government policy of improving efficiency and productivity in further education in the interests of broad parity with the rest of the United Kingdom.
Lecturers' union Natfhe has warned of massive resistance if the plans affecting around 2,000 staff are implemented.
The union said the English model was unworkable in the context of Northern Ireland where colleges remain partly under the auspices of local authorities. If the new contracts were introduced class time hours could virtually double and holidays be reduced by up to seven weeks.
Regional officer Jimmy McKeown said: "Our argument is that the workload of teachers is already very severe, which is borne out by the numbers wishing to take early retirement and on sick leave. These new contracts will plunge the further education system into the chaos we have seen for the past two years across the water."