Unions, bosses talking again - but not about hours

March 5, 1999

The dispute between further education employers and unions over contracts, which hit its seventh anniversary this week, is over.

Members of lecturers' union Natfhe agreed at an emergency weekend meeting to halt strikes that had been planned because of refusals by the Association of Colleges to reconsider teaching hours.

Instead, both sides have agreed to lay aside the teaching hours question and concentrate on addressing other employment issues, including pay, part-time work and staff development.

In a joint statement with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, they restated their commitment to a national bargaining framework on pay and agreed to a series of further talks.

They also agreed to recognise local agreements on terms and conditions of employment, which have been reached in 55 per cent of colleges. This was a major hurdle in discussions last October, when Natfhe members rejected a deal that proposed fixing the lecturing week at between 22 and hours. Lecturers feared that employers would scrap local deals in favour of the -hour upper limit.

Paul Mackney, Natfhe general secretary, said: "For six years, the only thing Natfhe and the AoC have talked about is hours. What this decision has done is to say if we haven't been able to solve one thing for six years, it shouldn't stop us talking about other things."

He said Natfhe would still like to see national recommendations on hours but wanted to make sure issues were discussed, too. Hours will be resolved at college level.

David Gibson, AoC chief executive, said: "We hope to create a new industrial relations climate that enables colleges to fulfil their obligations to their communities by widening participation and raising standards."

As part of the agreement, employers and unions will form working parties to develop good practice, jointly lobby the government on standards and develop a model local recognition and procedural agreement with other trade unions, such as Unison.

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