The prospect of a negotiated settlement of the further education contracts dispute hung in the balance today as Natfhe, the main lecturers union, met to debate a call to go to Acas.
The Colleges Employers' Forum agreed to the suggestion of conciliation from the minority FE union, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, after national talks broke up last week.
But there are signs of strong resistance to the move at today's special meeting of Natfhe's national executive committee.
"The only purpose of going to Acas would be to surrender to the CEF. There is no question of conciliation where there is no common ground," said one NEC member.
The ATL view is that conciliation was "the only positive step left to take" given the distance between the two sides. "With the prospect of a further year with no pay rise for Silver Book holders, the need to resolve this dispute becomes even more pressing," said Gerald Imison, assistant general secretary. CEF chief executive Roger Ward said he would agree to no pre-conditions for talks at Acas. He said there was still a fundamental sticking point over Natfhe's wish to protect weekly teaching hours.
"I want to assure Natfhe this matter can be resolved, but only if they continue talking with the assistance of Acas," he said.
Sue Berryman, Natfhe FE negotiating secretary, said that weekly contact hours were the core issue for lecturers and the union reserved its right to negotiate for all members, including those already on CEF-style contracts.
Natfhe is maintaining its call for local strikes on Wednesday March 8 as part of a week of action on the contracts. The union says there are 170 strike ballots pending around the country.
* CEF chairman Gordon Scott has announced his resignation, just weeks after his college, Peterlee in Durham, agreed a local settlement of the contract dispute.
However, Mr Scott said that his decision to quit after two years as chairman was not linked to any rift within the CEF over the Peterlee decision.