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Lancaster University forced to pay sacked staff after legal fight

22 April 2010 | last updated: 11 December 2015

Lancaster University must pay former members of staff 60 days' salary after UCU won a legal battle over the institution's failure to properly consult about the dismissals.

The exact number of staff is yet to be confirmed, but is likely to be around 30. All the staff were on fixed-term contracts and the union said the victory must act as a warning to other universities to treat fixed-term staff fairly.
 
The Employment Tribunal ruled that the university breached its statutory duty to consult with the union if planning to make 20 or more people redundant. The university claimed that identifying staff whose contracts it would not renew was a form of consultation with the union. However, the tribunal ruled that simply providing lists detailing the staff whose contracts were ending was not the meaningful consultations the law requires.
 
The ruling makes it clear that the dismissal decision of a fixed-term member of staff occurs when a decision is made not to renew their contract on the same terms and conditions. Therefore universities simply cannot let fixed-term contracts expire without fulfilling the statutory obligation to consult the union if more than 20 such dismissals are to occur within 90 days.
 
The Tribunal went on to say that the university's proposal to dismiss the staff was beyond doubt when it compiled its monthly lists of staff whose contracts were due to end. The requirement to consult arose on the date those lists were prepared. The union has similar challenges against both the University of Leeds and the University of Stirling
 
Alan Whittaker from the local UCU branch at Lancaster University said: 'Lancaster UCU welcomes the decision and hopes it will encourage the university to participate in meaningful consultation and negotiations around current redundancy proposals.'
 
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt said: 'This is a very important victory for thousands of university staff on fixed-term contracts. Universities have to understand that they cannot just wait for fixed-term contracts to expire to get rid of staff.
 
'I think it is a source of great shame for UK higher education that only the hotel and catering sector employs a greater percentage of staff on temporary contracts. The widespread use of fixed-term contracts is the unacceptable underbelly of higher education in this country.
 
'Despite specific guidance agreed by the employers and trade unions to discourage the abuse of fixed-term contracts, universities seem to be ignoring it and persisting with short-term and short-sighted employment practices. The best brains in Britain are held in positions of insecurity and it is no wonder that many may look for jobs abroad or outside higher education.'

Section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 states: Where an employer is proposing to dismiss as redundant 20 or more employers at one establishment within a period of 90 days or less, the employer shall consult about the dismissals all the persons who are appropriate representatives of any of the employees who may be affected by the proposed dismissals or may be affected by measures taken in connection with those dismissals.

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