Ask the panel

January 13, 2006

Worried about your employment, maternity, pension rights? Send your questions to The Times Higher advice panel.

I am on a three-year contract that is due to end this month. I have about 19 years of continuous service in further and higher education. I work for a new university that is very positive and helpful - it is paying both statutory and discretionary redundancy payments. However, I have been quoted for my redundancy payment for only three years because before this I worked for an old university. Can I get all my continuous service recognised? Should I be paid statutory redundancy for the full length of service even if I do not receive it for the discretionary payment?

* The Universities and Colleges Employers' Association panellist says: "The Redundancy Payments Order 1999 makes local authorities 'associated employers' for the purposes of the redundancy provisions of the Employment Rights Act 1996 . Only new universities are included on the Modification Order because they were once part of local authorities.

Therefore it will not be possible for you to get your previous service at a pre-92 university recognised for redundancy purposes. You have been treated fairly in accordance with legal requirements."

* Our Association of University Teachers panellist says: "For the purposes of redundancy, each contract of employment with each employer is regarded as a separate contract and therefore service between different employers is not normally counted for the purposes of calculation of redundancy pay.

In the post-92 sector, however, agreement between employers and unions means continuous service in any of the bodies listed in the Modification Order will be counted for the purposes of redundancy pay. The Modification Order includes institutions set up under the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 and the 1988 Education Reform Act.

The Modification Order does not, however, list pre-92 universities. Any service you have built up in the post-92 sector would have been broken by your last contract of employment. There is no legal entitlement to redundancy payments for more than three years' service."

But, she adds, "You would, however, be entitled to have previous employment counted if your contract of employment specifically provides for this; your current post is as the result of a Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 (Tupe) transfer; or your current employer has voluntarily agreed to count all periods of employment within the pre-92 sector for the purposes of calculation of redundancy pay for permanent staff (otherwise, as a fixed-term member of staff, you would be being treated less favourably).

"You should also remember that the employer has certain duties in redundancy situations, including the duty to identify and offer any suitable alternative employment. Those in such a situation should contact their trade union for advice."

* The Natfhe panellist says: "Unfor-tunately, your old university contract breaks the continuous service built up in post-92 establishments. Your employer would not be able to count the previous service unless your change of employment was a Tupe transfer or unless all contracts of employment within the institution allow previous service to be counted. Your statutory redundancy rights would also be limited."

He adds: "It might be more productive to explore your right to seek suitable alternative employment. If the employer is really being helpful and values your skills then it would be worth exploring what can be done on this front.

You should also keep a close eye on what others in a similar position are being offered. Employers have certain obligations in a redundancy and you should seek advice and support from your trade union as early as possible."

This advice panel includes the Association of University Teachers, Natfhe, the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, Research Councils UK, the Equality Challenge Unit and Rachel Flecker, an academic who sits on Bristol University's contract research working party.

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