'Nuisance' union activist was unfairly dismissed

January 15, 1999

Doncaster College unfairly dismissed whistleblower and union activist John Giddins, an industrial tribunal has ruled. But the college did not victimise him for his union activity and his vociferous criticisms of management.

In a written judgment delivered this week, the Sheffield Employment Tribunal said that it had reached a "unanimous decision" that sociology lecturer Mr Giddins had been unfairly dismissed. "We conclude that the applicant was not reasonably treated," it said.

But the tribunal did not uphold Mr Giddins's claim that he was singled out - as the only lecturer to be given compulsory redundancy - for his vociferous opposition to new staff contracts and his role in drawing public attention to potential conflicts of interest in the appointment of the principal's wife, Nina Ashurst, as head of personnel at the college.

The tribunal did acknowledge that Mr Giddins was regarded as "a nuisance and a menace to the management of the college". Principal John Ashurst, the tribunal said, "had good reason to regard him as somebody he would rather be without". And Dr Ashurst "made comments about Mr Giddins which only served to inflame the situation".

During the hearing in July 1998, the tribunal heard that Dr Ashurst had spoken in 1997 of his desire to "get rid of" a union activist.

But the tribunal found that Mr Giddins was not victimised. "We accept that Dr Ashurst would have found life easier without the applicant's presence on his staff and we remind ourselves that at the end of the day the applicant was the only lecturer to be made compulsorily redundant," the tribunal said.

However, the tribunal found "that the applicant's selection for redundancy was not on grounds related to his trade union membership or activity". The redundancy process, it said, was "conducted in an objective way without any reference to the personalities involved".

After selecting Mr Giddins for redundancy, the managers offered him an alternative job, with reduced hours. But in doing so, they attempted to give Mr Giddins a fresh contract - the contract he had been campaigning against.

Had the college "taken a more tolerant view", the tribunal said, could have kept Mr Giddins on the terms he had enjoyed for the previous 11 years of service.

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