Lecturers could launch a crippling strike action at north and north-east colleges as a row over pay heats up.
The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) has opened a ballot asking members if they would support industrial action amid an on-going wage wrangle.
The union has rejected a 1% pay rise with members now poised to go on strike at colleges across the country, including in Moray and Inverness.
Last night Scottish Labour’s Iain Gray said the possibility of industrial action was a result of the SNP’s “abysmal” record on supporting colleges.
EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said the possible strike action was justified.
He said: “The EIS submitted a pay claim more than 15 months ago, seeking a fair cost of living increase for lecturers and for colleges to commit to addressing the current pay inequity across the sector.
“Colleges are obliged to deliver the Scottish Government’s commitment for national bargaining on pay and conditions, so it is unacceptable that they have tabled an offer that would widen, rather than narrow, pay differentials for lecturers doing the same job in different colleges.
“The fact that colleges are now threatening to impose this unfair offer will only strengthen lecturers’ resolve and lead to increased support for strike action.”
But Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said it was important lecturers realised the pay dispute could not be resolved “overnight” – and warned any potential action could “detrimentally affect students”.
She said: “The college sector is committed to national bargaining and to addressing pay differentials. However, this cannot be done overnight nor in isolation to conditions of service, which for lecturing staff are very generous.
“The EIS position is so far from what is realistic that we fear any industrial action will not only detrimentally affect students but also do little to improve lecturers’ prospects of reaching a pay settlement this year.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman added: “Any ballot for industrial action is disappointing, and strike action is in no one’s interests, least of all students and their families.
“As employers, decisions on pay are a matter for colleges and we expect both management and staff representatives to work together to find a solution in the best interest of students.”