Redundancy consultation negotiations end in feud

Union disputes number affected and claims that university breached rules. Melanie Newman reports

June 4, 2009

A university is facing legal action for an alleged breach of rules on consultation over redundancies.

The University and College Union has applied for a "protected award" against the University of Hull, which it says failed to provide accurate information on the number of fixed-term staff whose contracts were likely to be terminated or to consult on the cuts.

If the legal claim is successful, the university may have to pay each person affected - even those who have left already - up to three months' salary. This could be as many as 100 people, the union says.

The UCU argues that it is legally entitled to the data and to be consulted, whereas the university says the number of staff involved is too small to trigger the legal requirement to consult.

The union, which sued another university for failing to consult last year, has been pressing Hull to move its fixed-term staff on to fractional contracts.

At present, each contract is personally signed off by the vice-chancellor, David Drewry, which a source at the university said had led to "large bottlenecks".

Earlier this year, the university gave UCU officials a list of names of fixed-term workers whose contracts it planned to terminate.

The union rejected the list as inaccurate because it said several members of staff that it was already advising on redundancy were not named in the document.

Mark Oley, UCU officer for the region, said: "The union wants the university to enter into serious negotiations on the issue of no compulsory redundancies for academic and academic-related staff.

"We have asked them to discuss an agreement on job protection and redeployment."

However, a university spokeswoman said: "The figures upon which the UCU based its claim were, in the view of the university, incorrect.

"We believe that the number of staff whose fixed-term contracts were not renewed by reason of redundancy during that period was in fact significantly lower than the threshold number required to trigger collective consultation requirements."

She added that the university had accepted the UCU's general points on collective consultation and would consult on current and future non-renewals of fixed-term contracts, whether or not the legal threshold was reached.

Last year, the UCU sued Cardiff University for failing to consult on termination of fixed-term contracts.

The claim was settled in July 2008 without admission of liability by the university.

The union secured payments equal to 90 days' salary for a number of staff, and the university also agreed to consult the UCU six months in advance of potential future dismissals. Cardiff paid £11,689 in settlement to two former employees and spent £40,747 in legal fees on the case.

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