College accused of 'victimising' union reps

Ruskin College 'absolutely refutes' allegations of victimisation of UCU representatives

Julia Belgutay

Union general secretaries are urging Ruskin College to drop all disciplinary proceedings and a threat of redundancy against staff

Ten trade union leaders have written to Ruskin College in Oxford, urging it to drop all disciplinary proceedings and a threat of redundancy against staff after a trade union branch officer was dismissed.

According to the letter, signed by the general secretaries of the Napo, BFAWU, FBU, NUJ, NEU, PCS, POA, RMT, UCU and URTU unions (listed in full below), the signatories want to “raise our profound concerns about the way Ruskin College management appears to be victimising trade union reps from the University and College Union (UCU)”.   

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Proud history

They add that given the proud history of the college, they are concerned that “this course of action is not only wrong in itself, but also risks undermining the founding principles of the institution”.  

The letter states: “As we understand it, three reps have been placed under unwarranted disciplinary investigation, whilst a further two union members have been placed at risk of redundancy. If financial circumstances are difficult, we would expect management to enter into serious discussions to explore a way of resolving the situation. There can never be an excuse to victimise or harass trade union reps.”

The letter adds: “We would ask that you drop all disciplinary proceedings and withdraw threats of redundancy and pursue a constructive approach towards working with UCU reps going forward. Otherwise, we stand ready to give our full support and solidarity to members of Ruskin College staff should they move towards taking industrial action.”

Motion of no confidence

According to the UCU, branch officer Lee Humber was dismissed on 12 July, having previously been suspended just days after the local branch passed a motion of no confidence in the Ruskin College principal.

UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell said: “Ruskin College makes much of its links to the wider union movement and origins as a workers’ college, which makes the sacking of union reps all the more offensive. Staff have made it clear they have no faith in the direction the management is heading, but Ruskin’s response has been to get rid of people trying to highlight the problems. The current spate of redundancies will essentially kill off trade union higher education courses at the college as it lurches from educating and nurturing trade unionists to sacking them.”

A statement by the college said: "Ruskin College absolutely refutes all allegations of victimisation of union reps and would like to reiterate that the ongoing disciplinary investigations are entirely separate from any trade union activity undertaken by those involved. 

"As would be expected of any good employer, Ruskin College follows its published policies and procedures. These are agreed with unions and apply to all staff equally and completely, irrespective of their political, social or professional affiliations. It would be inappropriate and unfair to make any further comment on this matter whilst the investigations are ongoing."

'Significant under-recruitment'

The college added the proposed redundancies announced earlier this month affect those teaching on courses with "significant under-recruitment and poor student retention". "The delivery of high-quality degree and MA programmes remains a priority for the college but it is neither financially viable nor in students’ best interests to run courses with only a handful of students. We will continue to develop our HE curriculum and deliver courses which are valued by our students and have a demonstrably transformative effect on their lives and futures."

The statement added: "The management team at Ruskin continues to pursue positive dialogue with UCU to bring about a swift resolution to the current joint dispute."

Last year, a report published by the FE commissioner’s team said a pattern of “significant operating deficits over a number of years has eroded the college’s reserves and placed the college at significant financial risk”. It went on to say that “this is only recently being addressed by the new principal and the new senior leadership team”. Ruskin College had been subject to Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) intervention since December 2014, after its accounts revealed “inadequate financial health”.

Letter signatories:

- Ian Lawrence (chair, Trade Union Co-ordinating Group and general secretary, Napo)

- Ronnie Draper (general secretary, Bakers Food & Allied Workers Union)

- Matt Wrack (general secretary, Fire Brigades Union)

- Michelle Stanistreet (general secretary, National Union of Journalists)

- Kevin Courtney (joint general secretary, National Education Union)

- Mark Serwotka (general secretary, Public and Commercial Services Union)

- Steve Gillan (general secretary, The Professional Trades Union for Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers)

- Mick Cash (general secretary, National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers)

- Jo Grady (general secretary-elect, University and College Union)

- Bob Monks (general secretary, United Road Transport Union)

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Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay is head of FE at Tes

Find me on Twitter @JBelgutay

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