Lancaster University forced to pay out to sacked staff after losing legal fight

27 October 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 their dismissals.

The members of staff were made redundant between March and June 2009 and were originally awarded the money in April this year. However, the university decided to appeal against the original ruling and now, more than two years after being made redundant, they will finally receive the money owed to them - equivalent to 60 days' salary each.
 
All the staff were on fixed-term contracts and UCU said today's victory must act as a warning to other universities to treat fixed-term staff fairly. The Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld the original ruling from the Employment Tribunal 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 providing a spreadsheet listing staff whose contracts it would not renew was a form of consultation with the union. However, the tribunal ruled that was not the meaningful consultation the law requires. A ruling upheld in the Employment Appeal Tribunal today, which said the failure amounted to a serious breach of the legislation.
 
The ruling now 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 original decision said 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.
 
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'This is a very important victory for the former members of staff at Lancaster University who will finally get the money they are owed. It is also an important ruling for the 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. 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.'

Alan Whitaker from Lancaster UCU said: 'We are pleased, but not surprised, that the original unanimous decision of the Employment Tribunal was upheld and that an important precedent has now been set. However, it is disappointing that since this ill-advised and expensive appeal was launched we believe Lancaster has committed further breaches of its legal obligations to collectively consult and we intend to pursue these.
 
'It is, unfortunately, symptomatic of an increasingly dogmatic and aggressive approach to change which does little to encourage constructive relationships with campus unions, including UCU, and serves to damage the reputation of the university. One can only hope this decision will cause the university to reflect on this.'

Notes
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 employees 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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