A CITY MP has joined a number of UK universities in condemning what he calls a ‘sham union’ created by Coventry University amid a staff pay and conditions row.
Coventry MP Jim Cunningham has taken to Twitter to slam the university for denying its staff from being represented by the University and College Union (UCU) in negotiations for improved contractual terms.
The UCU says the institution’s subsidiary company – Coventry University Group (CUG) – is exploiting a legal loophole and has set up a ‘sham’ trade union – the Staff Consultative Group (SCG).
The CUG has signed a recognition agreement for it to represent staff – denying them official UCU representation.
Mr Cunningham said: “I have written to the Vice Chancellor of Coventry University, Professor John Latham, raising my concerns about the actions of Coventry University Group (CUG) in relation to staff representation and trade union recognition, pointing out the need to review this decision.
“The approach taken shows a worrying disregard for the wishes of CUG staff and their right to meaningful collective bargaining on the issues of concern.
” I have urged the University to change its course, reconsider this approach and agree to an appropriate recognition agreement with the University and College Union (UCU).”
The union says staff at the CUG are paid less than their colleagues at Coventry University and are employed on inferior terms and conditions.
The UCU will call for an ‘academic boycott’ of the university if bosses refuse to recognise it as the official representative of the CUG’s staff.
It would see UCU members refuse to attend conferences, apply for jobs, give lectures or act as external examiners at Coventry University.
Staff from other universities have directed their anger at Coventry University chiefs and vice-chancellor John Latham via the UCU’s campaign webpage.
Staff at South and City College Birmingham said: “Please accept our message of solidarity for CU Group in light of the attempts made by Coventry University’s VC, John Latham, to deny members independent union representation.
“These members are on increasingly detrimental terms and conditions and are not given the voice afforded to them by UCU.”
In a letter directed to Latham, Anglia Ruskin University staff wrote: “We believe this legal manoeuvre was a transparent attempt to frustrate the will of staff who have demonstrated that they wish to have UCU recognised to negotiate for them.
“We are calling on the CU Group to de-recognise its fake union and recognise UCU for the purposes of collective bargaining across the Group immediately.”
The university says it is disappointed by the UCU’s ‘negative campaign’, saying all staff at CUG are represented by the SCG.
It said staff have ‘similar levels of pay’ and the disparity reflects the flexibility and ‘the different nature of teaching’ of the accelerated ‘no-frills’ degrees provided at CUG.
Many students at the CUG take flexible degrees designed to make university more accessible.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, stated in a letter to The Guardian newspaper in December: “If you teach at CUG, ‘no frills’ means you get paid much less than your colleagues at the university, your teaching year is much longer, your workload heavier, and you have no access to a decent occupational pension.”
She also claimed the model sacrifices fair pay for maximum profitability.
Nearly 10,000 people have signed the petition named ‘Stop the anti-union dirty tricks in the Coventry University Group’ – up from 3,000 a week ago.
The latest statement from the CUG reads: “CU Coventry has always made clear that it is open to further discussion with UCU on this matter.
“We’ve agreed to continue talks around a potential voluntary recognition agreement with UCU, and we look forward to engaging in these conversations.”
John Latham has been approached for comment.