19th Sep, 2018

City MP submits parliamentary motion to debate Coventry University union dispute

Felix Nobes 21st Apr, 2018

A CITY MP has submitted a motion to parliament to debate the Coventry University trade union dispute.

The news comes only days after an organised demonstration in the city took place and university representatives claimed negotiations had broken down.

Jim Cunningham, MP for Coventry South, has been a vocal critic of the university and its vice chancellor, John Latham.

His motion to debate the dispute was put forward on Wednesday and has received the support of five MPs as it stands.

An early day motion is a formal proposal to debate a cause or an issue – but very few are actually taken forward.

Mr Cunningham said last month the university “shows a worrying disregard for the wishes of staff and their right to meaningful collective bargaining” and he urged it to “reconsider its approach”.

He is among a host of other university chiefs and politicians who have expressed support for the Coventry University Group (CUG – a subsidiary company) staff members.

Meanwhile, Coventry council cabinet member for finance and resources, Coun John Mutton, is the latest to send a letter to Mr Latham outlining his concerns.

The University and College Union (UCU) claim staff have been denied official union representation in their battle for improved contractual conditions.

But the university claimed the UCU had ‘reneged’ on agreements for dialogue while the UCU claim there is little need for negotiations and the dispute can end once the UCU is recognised as the official union of the CUG – in line with staff ‘statutory rights’.

Mr Cunningham will hope the petition named ‘Stop the anti-union dirty tricks in the Coventry University Group’ – which has obtained 10,000 signatures – will add impetus to the motion.

The motion read: “This House notes that Coventry University revealed that it had registered its staff association, the Staff Consultative Group (SCG), as a union and signed a recognition agreement with it; is alarmed about reports that the majority of Coventry University staff were unaware of the staff association and were not consulted; is concerned that this means that staff in the Coventry University Group (CUG) have been denied a union since the company was set up five years ago; further notes that members and staff have made it clear that they want the UCU to represent them; notes that a petition has been started on this issue, gaining 9,453 signatures so far; and calls on Coventry University to derecognise its company union and recognise the UCU for collective bargaining with immediate effect.”

As we reported last month, the UCU says the institution’s subsidiary company – CUG – is exploiting a legal loophole and has set up a ‘sham’ trade union – the SCG.

The CUG has signed a recognition agreement for it to represent staff – denying them official UCU representation.

As we revealed last month, figures obtained by the Coventry UCU show inferior pay and pension schemes and often longer working hours for staff.

This week, around 150 people turned out to protest the university’s ‘anti-union dirty tricks’ with union leaders in giving speeches.

Coun Mutton, in his letter to Mr Latham, said:  “The purpose of my contacting you is in the hope that you will intervene in the situation between CU Group and UCU Trade Union. As the politician responsible for Industrial Relations on Coventry City Council, I am aware just how helpful it can be to have recognised Trade Unions on board when it comes to implementing changes that affect the workforce. “After losing£113million of government funding we have had to make massive changes that have led to job losses and changes to working practices that probably wouldn’t have been possible without the working relationship that we enjoy most of the time with our Trade Union Colleagues.

“The University and Council have worked so well in partnership to successfully bid to become City of Culture 2021 and I wouldn’t want anything to jeopardise that but we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that the Trade Union movement is a large part of Coventry’s culture going back to the days of Tom Mann.

“I am appalled that an institution as well respected as Coventry University would use a loophole in Trade Union Law to register a Staff Consultative Group as a Trade Union solely to prevent having to recognise a bona fida Trade Union like UCU.

“I hope that you can persuade your colleagues that this is not the way that a highly respected and influential University should behave. I look forward to a change of heart by the Coventry University Group on this matter.”

We have approached Mr Latham for comment.

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