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Harlow in tribunal for 'improper' job losses

Harlow college is facing an employment tribunal challenge to the way it sacked about 80 teaching staff at a cost of more than Pounds 1 million in a dispute nearly two years ago.

From Monday, over 11 days of hearings, the college will defend itself against claims that it failed to consult properly and unfairly dismissed two members of staff.

Lecturers objected to a plan to change their contracts in 2007, which they said would reduce their pay and holiday, and a requirement that they reapply for their jobs.

The restructuring resulted in about 80 job losses, including 26 who refused to sign the new contracts, despite achieving acceptable test scores in the college's reselection process. The sacked lecturers became a cause celebre for the University and College Union, as concerns had been rising about colleges using similar tactics to change terms and conditions.

Barry Lovejoy, the union's head of further education, said the relationship with the college had improved during negotiations over the past 18 months. But he said: "These cases relate to the action taken at the time, and we are obliged to take this action for the benefit of our members."

The union maintains the statutory 90-day consultation process was not implemented properly and meaningfully. If it wins, each sacked staff member and any remaining staff whose contracts were changed could be entitled to a maximum of 90 days' pay in compensation, leading to a bill of nearly Pounds 1m.

A spokeswoman for the college declined to comment on the pending tribunal on legal advice.

The college has been criticised for the loss of experienced staff. But at the monitoring visit in November, Ofsted found it was making progress, except in A-level provision, where success rates had fallen.

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