21st Jul, 2018

Coventry University warned over 'anti-union tricks' amid staff pay row

Felix Nobes 19th Mar, 2018 Updated: 20th Mar, 2018

COVENTRY University has been warned it could deter academics and lecturers taking up roles amid a staff pay and conditions row.

The University and College Union (UCU) says the institution’s subsidiary company – Coventry University Group (CUG) – is exploiting a legal loophole to deny its staff acceptable salaries and proper union representation.

But the university says staff at the CUG already have support from another union and it is disappointed by the UCU’s ‘negative campaign’.

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.

The union said an academic boycott was its ‘most serious act of censure’.

It would see UCU members refuse to attend conferences, apply for jobs, give lectures or act as external examiners.

UCU leaders say the company has set up a ‘sham’ trade union – the Staff Consultative Group – and signed a recognition agreement for it to represent CUG staff.

Exploiting a technicality in trade union law, this means the UCU cannot apply to represent the CUG staff affected.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “Universities are not covering themselves in glory at the moment but these dirty tricks by Coventry University represent a new low for the sector.

“Coventry is going to get a reputation as a pariah institution if it does not abandon this shameful approach to its staff.

“The university and CUG must scrap the sham union and recognise UCU in accordance with staff wishes.

“Failure to do so could see UCU members stop applying for jobs, lecturing or collaborating on research projects at the university.”

According to the UCU, staff at the CUG are paid less than their colleagues at Coventry University and are employed on inferior terms and conditions.

But the university refers to the ‘different nature of teaching’ to explain the gap in pay.

Many students at the CUG take flexible ‘no-frills’ degrees designed to make university more accessible.

The CUG is a wholly owned education subsidiary company of Coventry University.

The company’s chief executive, John Dishman is also a pro-vice-chancellor of the university.

Board meeting minutes from March 2016 obtained via a Freedom of Information request show the CUG was considering this legal manoeuvre to stop UCU from applying for statutory recognition.

A petition has been launched calling on CUG to ‘scrap the sham union and recognise UCU’ in accordance with staff wishes.

According to a UCU spokesman it has over 3,000 signatures.

Coventry University response:

A university spokesperson said: “All staff within the CUG are represented by a Staff Consultative Group (SCG), which was established for around 18 months as a staff association before it was set up as a trade union in its own right.

“UCU has refused to acknowledge or recognise this.

“Although there is already union representation within the CUG, we have recently had discussions with UCU around the potential to enter into a voluntary recognition agreement with them.

“UCU wrote to us about this on Tuesday March 13, giving us seven days from that date to update them with progress.

“We are therefore disappointed UCU launched this negative campaign just two days later and well ahead of the timescale they themselves set for our response.

“Despite this we remain open to discussion as always.

“CUG staff are employed under separate contracts and different terms and conditions to reflect the different nature of teaching and timetabling that is designed to improve access and flexibility for our students.

“This flexibility is something many of our staff choose and value.

“Teaching staff within the group have similar levels of pay to those at Coventry University.”

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