The Employment Appeal Tribunal in Lancaster University v. The University and College Union have upheld the decision of the Employment Tribunal to make a protective award for failure to collectively consult about the end of a number of fixed-term contracts. It did not interfere with the ET's decision to reduce the amount from 90 days' to 60 days' pay, where it was found that the failure to collectively consult had been "effectively condoned" by the union.
The case involved research assistants on fixed-term contracts which were based on the duration of funding. For a period of over ten years from 1996 onwards, the University developed the practice of writing to and then meeting with, these employees four months before their contracts were due to expire, reminding them that they may be at risk. At the same time the University provided lists of these employees to the union. If funding could not be secured, or alternative employment found, then the HR department followed-up with the employees to confirm termination of employment.
After the appointment of a new regional support officer in 2008 the union then complained that the University was not meeting its obligation, under s. 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, to inform and consult when 20 or more redundancies were proposed within a period of 90 days. When change to the practice was not forthcoming, applications for protective awards were made.
The EAT agreed with the original tribunal's decision that the procedure adopted by the University breached s.188. It also, however, upheld the tribunal's decision to reduce the award, noting that the University had been "lulled into a false sense of security" by the union condoning the procedure over a number of years.
This decision is of importance to employers in managing the dismissals of fixed-term employees.
If you would like to read the full judgment, please click here.