COLLEGE staff have warned of further strike action unless their employers get around the negotiating table to talk about pay.

In a rare show of joint defiance, lecturers and support staff including porters, clerical workers, and administrators, brought colleges to a halt yesterday.

Thousands of students had their lessons cancelled as staff protested against the recent 2.3 per cent pay offer. Teachers in schools can earn 12 per cent more - worth £3,000 a year - even though the further education (FE) sector educates more 16 to 18-year-olds

Joyce Harrison, regional support officer for lecturers' union Natfhe, said of the strike action: "We welcomed our Unison colleagues and it was a clear demonstration that the two unions together are saying enough is enough.

"The next step is to hope that there are further talks, that we can get somewhere with those, otherwise we're going to have to consider further action."

About 250 union members protested at Grey's Monument, Newcastle, yesterday, and a number of colleges in the region, including City of Sunderland and South Tyneside colleges, were closed.

Richard Armstrong, branch chairman of Natfhe at Darlington College of Technology, said: "We've had a good number of years of salaries being stifled by the management of the colleges.

"We are hoping that talks will commence with the AoC (Association of Colleges) in order to further their promises of parity with school teachers by 2004."

But the AoC, which represents almost all the sixth form and general further education colleges, has said there is no more money available.

AoC director of employment policy Ivor Jones said the unions should have waited for Education Secretary Charles Clarke's statement on long-term funding for FE colleges at the AoC's annual conference on November 19.

He said they should not have ''pre-judged the outcome with strike action''