UNION members and employees at the controversial Coventry University Group demonstrated today against the company’s ‘anti-union dirty tricks’, amid a staff pay dispute.
Around 150 people turned out to show support for Coventry University staff members who have been denied official union representation in their battle for improved contractual conditions, according to the University and College Union.
The protest took place outside the Graham Sutherland Building on Cox Street at 1pm today.
Notable speakers attended including the UCU vice-president Douglas Chalmers and Darrall Cozens from the Coventry Trade Union Council.
Meanwhile, the dialogue between the university and the union appears to have stalled.
A university spokesperson said it is disappointed the UCU held the protest, saying it was ‘misguided and unnecessary’.
The university insists it is open to negotiations and has offered to meet UCU representatives to discuss concerns.
But it says the UCU has ‘reneged on commitments’ to discuss the prospect of a resolution.
The demonstration came on the day university vice-chancellor John Latham received a formal letter from Jack Dromey, Labour MP for Erdington, outlining his concerns about efforts to “deny staff their expressed will and thwart their legal right to a union.”
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt offered her support yesterday, saying: “These shameful dirty tricks by the Coventry University Group are designed to deny staff their right to proper, independent trade union representation.
“Staff have made it quite clear that they want to be represented by UCU.
“The management needs to respect the wishes of staff by scrapping the sham union, confirming they will recognise UCU now and granting the union proper negotiating rights.
“If Coventry’s approach does not change it risks an academic boycott with UCU members refusing to work or collaborate with the university and its subsidiary companies.”
As we reported last month, 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.
As we revealed last month, figures obtained by the Coventry UCU show inferior pay and pension schemes and often longer working hours for staff.
Staff from other universities as well as city MP Jim Cunningham have blasted the university for denying its staff official representation.
Jack Dromey, in his letter to Mr Latham, said: “This appears to have been a deliberate and planned move on the part of the Coventry University Group to exploit the law and deny staff their expressed will and thwart their legal right to a union.
“I find it deeply concerning that Coventry University, a major employer in the West Midlands, should take such an apparently hostile stance towards trade union recognition.
“I note that UCU have launched a petition calling for full recognition of the union which has received almost 10,000 signatures.
“In light of this, I would urge you to reconsider your approach and to intervene to grant UCU recognition across the Group for collective bargaining at the earliest opportunity.”
A further protest has been organised by the Coventry UCU for Wednesday May 16.
A Coventry University spokesperson said: “We have always made clear that we’re open to continuing talks with UCU and are disappointed the union held this protest today.
“We believe the protest was misguided and unnecessary because we have agreed to meet with UCU to discuss their concerns in a positive and constructive manner on multiple occasions.
“Instead, regrettably, we feel UCU has embarked on a negative and misleading public campaign and reneged on commitments made to us.
“We remain open to positive dialogue with UCU.”
We have approached Mr Latham for a comment.
UCU updated response:
The UCU responded to claims from Coventry University that they are still open to negotiations and the union had broken its promise to maintain negotiations.
A UCU spokesperson said: “Coventry University needs to stop spinning and demonstrate it actually wants to get this sorted. They can stop it all immediately by simply agreeing to recognise UCU.
“We’re happy to meet any time to discuss how an agreement will work but we’re not going to suspend the campaign until they confirm that they will recognise us, now, in line with our statutory rights.
“We’ve asked the university to confirm this, in writing, repeatedly since March 8 and they still won’t do it.
“Coventry can’t be allowed to pick and choose what they negotiate with us just because they are prepared to trick their staff out of legal recognition.”