Ask the panel

April 6, 2007

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

'After working as a lecturer from 1982 to 1996, then taking a few years' leave to raisemy family, I have been working part time since 2003 as a senior research fellow on a fixed-term contract. I recently applied for a permanent full-time lectureship position under the redeployment scheme, whereby staff whose fixed-term contract is nearing its end have priority for suitable posts if they meet the essential criteria and an interview panel deems them "appointable". I was told I was not eligible for interview as I did not meet the essential criterion of "evidence of capacity to enhance the RAE". On asking for further explanation, I was told I could not be given any since the school's RAE strategy is "confidential". How can this be fair, given that it means candidates cannot possibly know if their application has been treated fairly, whether they are wasting time on an application, or prepare their research so as to meet this secretive requirement?'

* A spokesman for the University and College Union says: "If your current fixed-term contract is nearing its conclusion and will not be renewed, you are at risk of redundancy. Your employer has a duty to consult with you about the redundancy and to seek to avoid making you redundant by taking active steps to redeploy you to another position in the organisation.

"The situation you describe certainly does not seem fair, as there seems to be a fundamental lack of transparency about the redeployment process. If the university has a set criterion that staff must meet before they can be redeployed, but it will not let staff know its content or how this is assessed, this raises considerable doubts about the validity of the decision made by the interview panel.

"It is therefore questionable whether the university is fulfilling its obligations to take action to redeploy you to another position in order to avoid making you redundant. You should speak to your local UCU representative to seek further advice on this matter.

"Another problem created by such a secretive process is that it is questionable as to whether your employer is adhering to his statutory duties under legislation. The university has a duty to not treat part-time workers less favourably than their full-time colleagues.

"Depending on the content of the mysterious criterion, this could amount to less favourable treatment if, due to your current part-time work, you have not had an opportunity to show 'evidence of capacity to enhance the research assessment exercise'.

"Your employer also has a positive duty to demonstrate that it does not discriminate on grounds of race, disability and - due to the Gender Equality Duty being enacted this week - sex. If the university insists on keeping elements of a job person specification secret, it will be difficult for it to demonstrate that it is not discriminating against staff.

"Further, it is a requirement of these positive duties to impact assess university policies: this should include both the redeployment policy and the RAE strategy.

"If a complaint is made and the university cannot demonstrate that it is complying with both general equality duties and specific duties, this could lead to enforcement action against the university.

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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