Further education college lecturers are to ballot for a national strike next month after pay talks this week failed to produce an agreement with employers.
At the sector's National Joint Forum meeting of employers and trade unions on Tuesday, leaders of lecturers' union Natfhe called for improvements in conditions of service on top of their demand for an immediate flat-rate £3,000 rise for all full-time further education lecturers.
The Association of Colleges told Natfhe that it could not make an on-the-spot offer and would have to consult its members so that it could bring a response to its next board meeting on May 15.
Paul Mackney, Natfhe's general secretary, said he was "disappointed" that the AoC had not been able to respond to the request for an immediate pay rise, first made two months ago. He said the union would go ahead with balloting for strike action to begin from May 22.
Mr Mackney said he was unmoved by AoC claims that finances were unavailable, since he said the AoCappeared to have no strategy for approaching the government for more funding, despite the looming financial crisis.
The AoC said it was sympathetic with the Natfhe claim, which a national government-backed staffing and pay survey from ORC International had shown was well-founded.
The survey found that a high proportion of lecturers had reached the upper limits of their pay scales.
About a quarter of full-time lecturers were receiving up to £31,000, although another quarter were getting less than £20,000.
Among part-timers, nearly half were earning more than £19,000, but per cent earned less than £17,000.
About half the colleges were not using national pay scales, and only 7 per cent operated a single continuous pay spine.
The AoC said the survey findings confirmed that rates of pay were low in further education compared with school teachers. They were particularly bad for learning-support staff, who received an average salary of £13,800 and would not be included in the government's further education pay initiative.
Ivor Jones, the AoC's director of employment policy, said it was fair enough for Natfhe to use the survey as the basis of its claims.
But he added: "Some elements of the claim would have a significant financial impact on colleges. We are therefore not in a position to make an offer until we have consulted our members."