Extraordinary events have rocked further education in Scotland in the national dispute over the replacement of lecturers by instructors.
We have seen what is perhaps a first in industrial relations. The EIS-Fela lecturers’ union accepted and ratified a proposal from the employers’ side, but the employers themselves promptly rejected it.
The employers said four things. They had no plan to replace lecturers, valued the work of all staff, would abide by agreements, and gave a definition of lecturing.
EIS negotiators accepted all these points, including the employers’ definition word for word.
Dismissing their own offer is a farce, but it shows their intentions. They did not dare to say it, but they do plan to replace lecturers, do not value them, and will not honour national agreements.
Above all, they don’t want a definition of lecturing.
Without that, they hope to get anyone on any old terms and conditions to stand in front of a class. It would mean education on the cheap and would cost students dear.
The shocking news of the employers’ reversal came out during the EIS-Fela annual conference. Delegates were furious and clear that the planned industrial action, which 90 percent voted for, would now go ahead on Thursday 25 March.
Forth Valley College, where management used fire and rehire tactics in a blatant example of replacing lecturers, had a very successful first strike last Wednesday.
Their combination of physical and virtual picketing will be copied by lecturers across Scotland.
On Thursday there will be a programme of activities for strikers including political campaigning. In following weeks the action is set to intensify to two days, then three days a week indefinitely.
The political focus is particularly important.
A sign of desperation is first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s decision rapidly to reopen the Scottish economy. Just weeks ago she was saying that extreme caution was needed.
As a public service that will be centre stage for any economic recovery, Further Education is a sensitive issue. If the strikes are absolutely solid and used to pile on public and political pressure, then the employers can be pushed to accept their own proposals.