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UCU condemns shameful employment practices at Coventry University's subsidiary company

27 September 2016

Coventry University is today being accused of employing shameful employment practices and moving staff around a network of subsidiary companies to avoid having to deal with trade unions or give staff a fair deal.

The allegations come in a letter from UCU which has written to Coventry University condemning the actions of its subsidiary company CU Services Ltd.

The union said the company's actions in sacking staff and planning to re-engage them as agency workers just weeks after they had voted unanimously for union recognition were reminiscent of allegations made about Sports Direct and had no place in the higher education sector.

As reported in today's Guardian Coventry University owns a series of companies that it uses to employ its staff. These companies have refused to recognise UCU to represent their staff.

Earlier this month staff at CU Services Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of the university, won their long-running battle for union recognition, voting by 100% on a 73% turnout, to have UCU represent them. These staff teach English to international students who go on to study at Coventry University.

Now, just a few weeks after UCU secured recognition, CU Services Ltd has announced that it is 'reviewing its business model' and sacking many of its staff. These staff have been told that if they want to continue doing the same work, they will have to register as agency workers with a company called thefutureworks - a trading name of Coventry University Enterprises Ltd, also wholly owned by Coventry University.

Coventry University has insisted that its subsidiary companies are autonomous and make their own decisions. However, the companies have only one shareholder, which is Coventry University, while their directors include senior university officers and members of Coventry University's board of governors. Until October last year, vice-chancellor John Latham sat on the board of CU Services Ltd.

UCU is calling on CU Services Ltd to immediately reverse this decision and for the university to engage constructively with UCU to negotiate recognition at all its education subsidiary companies.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'It is extraordinary that at a time when companies like Sports Direct are being forced to review their employment practices, we see the Times Higher Education university of the year using tactics like this to deny hard-working and vulnerable staff their union voice and diminish their employment rights. This is a shameful episode and the actions of Coventry University's subsidiary company are an embarrassment to the sector.

'CU Services Ltd must immediately reverse its decision and Coventry University needs to stop hiding behind the so-called autonomy of its companies and start to constructively engage with UCU at all its education subsidiaries. Students and the wider public who contribute so much to our universities deserve to know what is happening to the hard-working staff who teach them.

For our part, UCU will continue its fight to ensure that everyone teaching at Coventry University and its subsidiaries has the same right to union recognition.'

Last updated: 28 September 2016