London Met 'plague' email was only 'banter'

No victimisation, tribunal rules, in Unison official’s case against the university

June 5, 2014

Source: PA

Unbowed: Watson’s tribunal claim is dismissed, but he may appeal

A senior manager at London Metropolitan University told a colleague that there was “no plague virulent enough” for the head of the institution’s Unison branch – but it was only “banter”.

Private emails between London Met management are disclosed in the judgment of an employment tribunal brought against the university by Max Watson, a research administrator and Unison branch secretary. Mr Watson alleged he was victimised for his union activities, a claim the tribunal dismissed.

London Met management have had a series of battles with the university’s unions in recent years, including over the university’s loss of its licence to recruit non-European Union students in 2012.

Paul Bowler, deputy chief executive, wrote to Malcolm Gillies, the vice-chancellor, in December 2012 saying that he felt “they had the unions on the back foot, well done”. Another message sent by Mr Bowler to other senior colleagues described union activities as “bully-boy tactics of the 1970s unions”.

The judgment adds that there was an email from Alison Wells, university secretary, “that whilst intended to be private ‘banter’ with a member of her own team, stated that ‘there was no plague virulent enough’ for the claimant [Mr Watson]”.

Jonathan Woodhead, executive officer to the vice-chancellor and a former adviser to David Willetts, the universities and science minister, forwarded a video to Professor Gillies and Mr Bowler of a protest over the fate of the university’s foreign students. The video “showed the claimant and others at a protest and that email referenced that the claimant and another were ranting in ‘true SWP [Socialist Workers’ Party] style’,” the judgment says.

The root of the tribunal was the suspension of Mr Watson, a research administrator in London Met’s Working Lives Research Institute, for his role in the appointment of Jawad Botmeh at the WLRI in 2008.

In 1996, Mr Botmeh had been convicted over the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in London. He has always maintained his innocence.

When the university management investigated Mr Botmeh’s prior conviction after he became a staff governor in 2013, Mr Watson was charged with serious misconduct and the two men were suspended. Both later had their suspensions lifted and returned to work.

Mr Watson is thought to be appealing the dismissal of his tribunal claim.

A London Met spokesman said the judgment “makes it very clear that there is no anti-union policy at London Met, with the unanimous tribunal panel finding that the university had ‘sufficient grounds’ for taking further action against union officials, but chose not to do so”.

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Reader's comments (1)

How interesting - the university statement appears incongruent with the facts of the case as presented. In interpreting tribunal outcomes, we need to separate the findings of fact (which in this case seem not to reflect well on management style and standards of professional behaviour), from the rulings of law, which may hinge on technicalities. Sadly, some behaviours may be objectively reprehensible, but may nevertheless not cross the very stringent legal thresholds applied in tribunals.

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