AUT rejects arbitrator's Pickering recommendation

November 21, 1997

The Association of University Teachers has rejected the recommendation of an independent arbitrator that it should pay Pounds 18,000 compensation to a member who alleges he was inadequately represented.

John Pickering, former deputy vice chancellor of Portsmouth University, took redundancy and signed a gagging clause as part of his severance terms after a "management review" at the university in 1994 .

He told an arbitrator that his union, the Association of University and College Lecturers, now merged with the AUT, failed him by not winning him a reinstatement, or securing the best possible severance financial package - a claim the AUT firmly rejects.

In August this year the arbitrator found points in his favour, and recommended that the union pay him Pounds 18,000.

In a letter seen by The THES from AUT general secretary David Triesman, dated October 15, 1997, Professor Pickering was told: "The Association of University Teachers does not accept that there is any case to make any payment to you. I am communicating this decision directly to you so that there is no ambiguity."

Independent arbitration between Professor Pickering and the AUCL was carried out this summer by John Harris, a mediator for the Advisory, Arbitration and Conciliation Service. Mr Harris found that the AUCL did not attempt to get Professor Pickering reinstated.

"It is my view that the AUCL genuinely believed that the university was determined to remove Professor Pickering from his post, and would eventually succeed," he said in his report.

He also criticised the union for not pushing hard enough for a better financial package.

"It may well be that the AUCL failed to advance the argument to the governors as strongly as it might have done, that the university would suffer grave disadvantage and adverse publicity should a special committee be convened. Had this been more forcefully argued it may well have been possible to persuade the university to agree a financial package closer to the AUCL's initial proposals," he said.

Mr Harris found that a proposed Pounds 33,000 offered to Professor Pickering by the university as an ex gratia payment was reduced to Pounds 15,000 in the course of the negotiations.

"With the benefit of hindsight, I believe that it is possible that the ex gratia payment could have been held at Pounds 33,000 and not reduced to Pounds 15,000," his report said. "I recommend that the AUCL pay to Professor Pickering the sum of Pounds 18,000 in respect of the ex gratia payment."

The AUT refused to comment on the matter this week. But in a statement last month for the AUT's 1992 committee, AUCL national secretary Michael Roberts argued there were no shortcomings on the union's part. The statement, seen by The THES, argues that the "mass of material" faced by the arbitrator, and the "speed at which he was requested to work", as well as a "lack of specificity" in Professor Pickering's complaints, hindered his judgement.

The AUT claimed that the Pounds 18,000 lost from the proposed ex gratia payment was made up elsewhere in the deal, including a Pounds 13,000 increase in Professor Pickering's termination payment.

But arbitrator Mr Harris rejected the AUT's objections. In a letter of clarification demanded by the AUT, he stuck to his original recommendation of an Pounds 18,000 payment.

He said: "It is my view that the AUCL could have argued more forcefully during the discussions and negotiations. Had this been done it may well have been possible to hold the university to its original offer."

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