Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), has written to Education Secretary Michael Russell calling on him to re-establish collective bargaining on pay and conditions in further education. National pay was once a feature of the sector, but disappeared after colleges were removed from council control in 1993.
The EIS has long argued this has resulted in significant pay differences for lecturing staff of as much as £5000 between institutions, with even more dramatic variations in conditions of service such as hours and holidays.
The situation has led to concerns that a programme of mergers in further education will be more difficult because different colleges have different conditions of service.
The Scottish Government made a manifesto commitment on a return to national bargaining before the last election and the Government-commissioned Griggs Review of college governance also called for a return to national bargaining.
Mr Flanagan said: "The EIS has long campaigned for a return to national bargaining for the pay and conditions of Scotland's further education lecturers. Given that there is such a degree of consensus, it is disappointing that no real progress has been made.
"As the Scottish Government continues with its programme of college regionalisation and the merging of individual institutions, this highlights the urgency of moving towards an improved method of negotiating lecturers' pay and conditions through national bargaining."
Mr Russell said: "There should be a system of national bargaining for colleges and I believe there is a growing body of opinion which questions the need for around 40 different sets of terms and conditions. Our college reform programme is transforming the sector and this is an important opportunity to make progress, based on consensus, towards a sensible system of national bargaining."
John Henderson, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said: "Colleges are undergoing the process of regionalisation, which should lead to the harmonisation of salaries in the new college regions.
"Harmonising lecturers' salaries at a time of ongoing budget cuts will raise a number of complex issues and it is essential all parties work together to strike the right balance.
"We must ensure national pay bargaining works for lecturers and their students."
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