AUT incompetence

May 21, 1999

The head of the Association of University Teachers has been lambasted by an employment tribunal as "ignorant, naive and complacent" about race relations, despite being vindicated over a complaint of racial discrimination and victimisation.

The North London Industrial Tribunal has rejected a complaint of racial discrimination against the lecturers' union by former Queen's University Belfast lecturer Suresh Deman. But the tribunal criticised AUT general secretary David Triesman for "displaying a surprising degree of naivete and ignorance as to the reality of discrimination on the shop floor".

AUT national executive committee member, and former AUT president, Joanna De Groot, was described as "a patronising, unreliable and evasive witness". A lecturer at York University, she failed to tell the tribunal how many members of the York AUT were black, with the comment: "I don't put labels on people."

Dr Deman, a US citizen of Indian/Hindu origin, has been engaged in a long-running dispute with Queen's and the AUT since 1994, when he had some possessions stolen from the senior common room. The dispute eventually led to his removal from the university.

Dr Deman alleged that the AUT failed to provide him with legal aid and proper assistance in his case against Queen's, and that the national AUT failed to investigate his claims of discrimination against the local branch.

The tribunal said: "The picture that emerges is one of incompetence and cutting corners, rather than any conspiracy as far as the national officials and officers were concerned." The tribunal found "prima facie evidence of less favourable treatment" of Dr Deman by the local AUT, and warned that it "has reservations about the AUT's failure to investigate and about the manner in which the applicant's legal aid application was handled by the AUT".

But no breach of the Race Relations Act of 1976 was found. "It is the tribunal's unanimous decision," said the chairman, "that the applicant's complaints of race discrimination and victimisation I fail."

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