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College lecturers were victimised for their trade union activities, says employment tribunal

20 June 2006 | last updated: 15 December 2015

Five lecturers dismissed as redundant by Manchester College of Arts and Technology in August 2004 when their unit was closed for 'economic reasons' were sacked because the college's senior management resented their trade union activities, a Manchester Employment Tribunal has declared.

Geoff Brown, Joan Lynch, Aly McIntyre, Alan Sivori and Geoff Smith were the teaching staff of MANCAT's Trade Union Education unit at the end of May 2004 when the college decided to abandon its programme of courses for trade union representatives in Greater Manchester.

All five had been active in the college branch of NATFHE - The University & College Lecturers' Union, now UCU. Without warning the college expelled the lecturers from its premises and cut off their telephones and email accounts. The college made no effort to rescue courses already under way but wrote to the students to tell them to complete their training elsewhere. None of the five was offered redeployment.

After a sixteen-day hearing held between November 2005 and March 2006, a majority of the three-person tribunal held that the dismissals were automatically unfair because the main reason for them had been the claimants' trade union membership and activities. The third member of the tribunal accepted that the decision to close the trade union education unit had been taken for a sound business reason, but judged that the dismissals were unfair because of the lack of proper consultation.

The tribunal's full judgment notes the open hostility shown towards the union by college principal Peter Tavernor over several years and the abusive tone of his letters to the NATFHE branch.

On several occasions disciplinary action had been taken against some of the claimants without using proper procedure, and on one occasion the college tried to prevent Geoff Brown from being defended by his full-time official. The five dismissed employees had been allowed to appeal to a panel of college governors; but the appellants and their full-time official were prevented from questioning the management side over the closure of the unit and the panel never investigated the claims of victimisation.

A 'remedy' hearing will be held on 10/11 July 2006 to determine what compensation the five victims should receive.

Geoff Brown, former NATFHE branch secretary at MANCAT, said: 'I consider that the way forward for me now is to be reinstated and start afresh. The college must recognise that an injustice has been done and the onus is on our employers to put that right.'

Colin Gledhill, UCU regional official for further education in the north west, said: 'This is the most shameful story of vindictive treatment of loyal, hard-working teachers by an employer reacting badly to legitimate trade union activity that the union has had to deal with in the last 20 years.

'Highly-paid senior managers forced elected workforce representatives out of their jobs and livelihoods because they couldn't handle being challenged over policy decisions and working practices. Not all the victims have been able to find work and some have faced real hardship.

'Now we want to see MANCAT encourage staff to join trade unions and we will be working hard to build up UCU membership at this college with the aim of having better industrial relations in future.'

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