Stirling ‘broke law’ over lack of consultation for fixed-term jobs

A Scottish university broke the law when it let staff on fixed-term contracts go without consulting unions, the Supreme Court has ruled

April 29, 2015

The University of Stirling chose not to renew the contracts of a number of employees on fixed-term contracts when it axed about 140 jobs in 2009.

The University and College Union argued that it should have been consulted on the future of the fixed-term staff, claiming that they had, in effect, been made redundant.

After a lengthy legal battle concerning four test cases, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the union in a judgment issued on 29 April.

The issue will now be referred back to an employment tribunal and the university could be ordered to pay compensation.

The ruling will not affect workers who are currently employed on fixed-term contracts, because the law was changed in 2013 to explicitly exclude them from collective redundancy consultations.

But Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the UCU, said she was optimistic that the ruling would lead to compensation being paid to claimants from other institutions, whose cases are ongoing.

“Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court is vindication of the union’s determination that fixed-term workers should be on an equal footing with their permanent colleagues,” Ms Hunt said.

“It has taken six years, but now the highest court in the land has agreed with us that these workers should not have been subjected to the hire and fire culture that the University of Stirling believed was appropriate for them at that time.”

The UCU will continue to campaign to have the 2013 change in the law reversed, Ms Hunt added.

The Stirling redundancies happened at a time when the university faced a projected £4.4 million deficit.

While it carried out the required 90-day consultation in relation to a number of voluntary redundancies, it decided that it did not need to include the fixed-term workers in this exercise.

In her judgment, Lady Hale stated that the end of a fixed-term contract related not to an individual, but to the needs of the business, and that therefore constituted dismissal for redundancy. As a result, the workers should have been included in the consultation, she concluded.

A Stirling spokesman said that the university was “disappointed” by the ruling.

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