Ask the panel

March 23, 2007

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

'I work as a principal lecturer in a school of health and social care at a new university. My school has announced that all principal lecturer positions will disappear after March 31. I have been invited to apply for a new post, but this role will be more suited to others with more clinical skills than I have. I have been told that I may apply for a senior lecturer position and my salary will be protected for two years. Is this demotion legal - when afterwards it seems I will continue to do the work I have been doing before?'

* A spokesman for the University and College Union says: "The first question to address is why the university has decided to make these changes, as this will help to determine the appropriate course of action.

"From the circumstances that you describe, it sounds like this change could be a result of the university moving to new grading structures as a result of implementing the Framework Agreement. If this is the case, then the university could be removing or changing the title of the grade currently known as 'principal lecturer'. But we would expect staff to transfer at the same level (AC3 or equivalent) and not to suffer any detriment as a result of the change.

"It should also be noted that the principal lecturer grade is a nationally recognised grade in post-1992 universities. The new grade should apply to all academic disciplines and should not be biased towards certain areas such as roles needing clinical skills.

"There should be common grade boundaries in the university, not a bias towards particular subjects or skillsets associated with a subject area such as clinical sciences.

"If you are downgraded as a result of the Framework Agreement, we would advise you to talk to your local union representative, who should be able to advise you and support you in an appeal against the grading change.

"The changes that you describe could also be as a consequence of a reorganisation within the university, independent of the Framework Agreement. If this is the case, the university is obliged to consult with the trade unions about the proposed change.

"The employer cannot unilaterally downgrade a post, there should also have been consultation with you and other colleagues affected. There are certain circumstances where it can be appropriate for the university to lower the grade of the post, for example as a way of avoiding redundancies. But for the employer to do this, there are certain procedures that it must follow, including consultation and seeking consent from all the individuals affected.

"Your local union branch should be able to give you more detailed advice based on the specific circumstances in your university."

* A spokesman for the Universities and Colleges Employers Association says: "From what you have said, it sounds like your university is making your post redundant and that suitable alternative posts have been identified for you.

"If this is the case, you will have to decide whether you consider these posts to be suitable alternatives by considering any differences between the posts and investigating the changes further if you are unsure.

"If you decide to apply for the senior lecturer post, your university is under no obligation to appoint you to that post on your current salary.

They are being reasonable in offering to protect your salary for a period of two years, and there appears to be no reason to expect your responsibilities to change after the two years. You would simply be paid the appropriate rate for the job you would be doing at the time.

"If you decide that the posts are unsuitable alternatives for good reasons, you may be eligible for a redundancy payment."

This advice panel includes the University and College Union, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, Research Councils UK and Rachel Flecker, an academic who sits on Bristol University's contract research working party. Send questions to advicepanel@thes.co.uk

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