Southampton UCU Rotating Header Image

Update on university action against a union representative

As our Southampton members will know, the university recently initiated disciplinary action against a union representative over the way he supported members during a disciplinary enquiry. All three campus unions were deeply concerned; our caseworkers are trained and accredited by their unions and, if there are any issues about their performance, the appropriate behaviour by the university would be to approach a full-time official of the union. In the last resort, the union can withdraw a caseworker’s accreditation. We know the university understands this; not long ago the Chief Operating Officer wrote to union officials querying the conduct of union health and safety representatives. On that occasion, the representatives were promptly vindicated when the system whose safety they had been querying failed spectacularly—think of an indoor version of the Emperor Fountain at Chatsworth.

This casework is a trade union duty protected in law; our caseworkers are entitled to time off with pay while dealing with matters of discipline. Our understanding is that, during this time off, the caseworker should be answerable to their union, not to the employer. We put this to the university in an “Emergency Joint-Joint Negotiating Committee” meeting on 28th July, but the meeting was adjourned without agreement.

I am now able to report some moderately good news. The accused representative has been told that there is no case to answer. They have not, however, been told anything about the accusation; they don’t know its content, who made it, or whether, with no case to answer, the complaint has been judged vexatious. We have been given no assurances that such unjustified complaints will not again be used to harass our representatives in the future.

Our trained representatives are a very precious resource; almost all of our successes in resolving the problems of members depend on their skill and their willingness to give time to support their colleagues. We cannot allow inappropriate accusations by the employer to discourage them from coming forward, nor can we allow a chilling atmosphere of fear to discourage them from pursuing their role tenaciously.

We are thus continuing to press the university to give decent guarantees of protection to our volunteers through a formal undertaking that an incident of this sort will not happen again. We will let you know what happens when the EJJNC reconvenes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *