UCU takes Stirling to tribunal over consultation on job cuts

University says staff 'worked together to avoid compulsory redundancies'. John Morgan reports

November 12, 2009

Tribunal proceedings have been launched against the University of Stirling, which the University and College Union claims has "flagrantly breached" employment law by failing to consult properly on job cuts.

To address a projected £4.4 million deficit, Stirling has cut 123 jobs under a voluntary severance scheme that closed in September. At least 54 other staff on fixed-term contracts have been told their deals will not be renewed.

In a recent report to the university's governing court, Martin McCrindle, director of human resources and organisation development, says it remains possible that "in some cases it may yet be necessary to revert to compulsory redundancy to effect change".

The UCU action, which cites the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act, claims that Stirling failed to consult unions properly on the job losses. If it is successful, the action could result in each affected employee being granted a sum equivalent to 90 days' pay, the union said.

Stirling denied that it had breached its legal requirements and said it had met with unions over the "required 90-day period". It added that there was "no connection between the voluntary severance scheme and the end of fixed-term contracts".

However, Mary Senior, Scottish officer for UCU, argued that there had been a "flagrant breach of employment law".

She said: "The university will say it has had consultation meetings. We don't feel these were taking place in the timescales they needed to, and we don't feel they were coming to the table with an attitude to engage in meaningful consultation. The point of the legislation is to give trade union representatives a chance to influence actions. We don't feel we had that opportunity."

There had been no consultation on the termination of fixed-term contracts, Ms Senior said, which Stirling was "obliged" to undertake.

It is thought that around a third of the severance scheme losses have been in academic staff.

Neil Keeble, senior deputy principal of Stirling, said the university management had not seen the details of the UCU's claim, but he rejected the suggestion that it had breached its legal requirements and insisted the severance scheme had been voluntary. He added that the university had faced a projected budget deficit of £4.4 million for 2009-10, and its staff had "worked together to avoid compulsory redundancies".

Stirling is no longer projecting a budget deficit and has approved the appointment of new senior academic posts in management and sports studies, he said.

Meanwhile, the UCU branch at the University of Westminster has scheduled a one-day strike on 13 November after talks on a new pay and conditions offer broke down.

The university said the offer included an increase in London weighting allowance of "almost £1,000" for all academic staff.

Rikki Morgan-Tamosunas, deputy vice-chancellor, said: "The local UCU branch continues to ask for more at a time when the university needs to drive down costs - they are seeking to play fast and loose with jobs and the education of our students."

A UCU spokesman said: "The University of Westminster is the only institution that has failed to deliver the back pay from the National Framework Agreement, and it has no right to hold back this money from our members. It is wrong to say we have walked away from talks."

john.morgan@tsleducation.com.

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