London Met drops union recognition

May 18, 2007

Industrial relations stall as university ignores pre-merger agreements and insists the UCU must apply to represent staff. Melanie Newman reports.

In an unprecedented step, London Metropolitan University is refusing to recognise the University and College Union.

The university had a voluntary recognition agreement with former lecturers' union Natfhe, but London Met said it would not consider extending this to the UCU before receipt of a formal request for recognition.

The local UCU branch fears that if it applies afresh for recognition, London Met's previous agreements with Natfhe will be torn up, leaving it with statutory recognition terms limited in scope.

Union representatives at London Met said that industrial relations at the university had ground to a halt, with communications confined to letters from the union that were met with formal responses. Managers were refusing to meet representatives or to honour previous agreements.

In the latest twist, union reps have been asked to pay an external hire rate of £300 for a room used for official union meetings. Staff have also been denied permission by departments to attend courses related to union activities.

Amanda Sackur, chair of the university's UCU branch, said: "We have received legal advice that in the event of a merger all agreements carry over, and every other university in the country has taken that line."

She said London Met had changed its position recently. "The university met us at Acas two months after the merger and letters were sent out in the summer referring to the UCU as the recognised union," she said. "Their own draft policies refer to UCU as a direct substitute for Natfhe."

Meanwhile, staff said the university referred to the likelihood of redundancies this year. No progress has been made on the framework agreement or on the range of statutory equalities duties that require an institution to consult unions. Other outstanding issues have not been discussed for almost a year.

Managers also set up a staff council, which union members feared was aimed at replacing the union. So few staff stood for election to the council that the nominations were reopened.

London Met has a history of disputes with staff. The university had to pay £160,000 in compensation for the unfair dismissal of 23 lecturers after attempting to impose new contracts on them after the merger between London Guildhall University and the University of North London that formed London Met in 2002.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, said: "No university apart from London Met seems to have a problem with transferring union recognition from either Natfhe or the Association of University Teachers over to the UCU. It is true that there have been difficulties at the institution and that the union won significant victories for its members.

"Good employers learn from their mistakes and work on improving relationships with staff, bad ones retreat and spend time plotting revenge.

UCU is keen to work together with the university to resolve the current problems and look ahead to the future."

London Met declined to comment.

melanie.newman@thes.co.uk

UNION RIGHTS

The University and College Union has a statutory right to recognition by London Metropolitan University, as long as it can show that 10 per cent of workers at the university belong to the union and that the majority favour recognition.

Once a union is recognised, the employer must consult it on matters such as redundancy, health and safety and the transfer of undertakings. It must provide any information necessary for collective bargaining.

Statutory recognition would not require London Met to consult the union on many issues in local voluntary agreements, and many issues covered by statutory arrangements are decided nationally.

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