Tribunal dashes hopes of lecturers

21st April 2000 at 01:00
Union dismayed as it loses fight to win back working conditions that existed before incorporation. Harvey McGavin reports

LECTURERS have lost their long-running legal battle with college employers to regain pre-incorporation working conditions.

In a long-awaited judgment, an employment tribunal unanimously dismissed the case of the Lecturers' Employment Advice and Action Fellowship union that the transfer of staff to new contracts had been unlawful and rejected its claims for damages.

LEAF general secretary David Evans described the verdict as "an appalling result" and pledged to continue the battle to win back the so-called "Silver Book" conditions that existed when colleges were run by local authorities.

He said: "We will certainly be reviewing this on both facts and on law. It is a dreadful decision."

The case - listed as "Ralton and others v Havering College" - pitted a group of lecturers from the Essex college against their employers. The two sides were backed by LEAF and the Association of Colleges respectively.

At the London tribunal hearing - held in two parts in July and December last year - lawyers for the college agreed with LEAF's submission that colleges were "emanations of the state" and that the change from local authority control to corporation in 1993 was a "relevant transfer". Both concessions supported LEAF's case that employees were protected by European law on "Transfer of Undertakings" and the "Acquired Rights Directive". This means workers of organisations taken out of public-sector control cannot have employment terms altered, unless there is a major change in the nature of the organisation.

This fuelled hopes among LEAF's supporters that the tribunal might find in their favour. Bt in their 19-page judgment, the tribunal dismisses their claim, saying that incorporation "marked a radical change in climate in the further education sector" and "that it was government policy to encourage all the corporations to introduce new employment terms, which differed from the

Silver Book".

The three lecturers whose cases formed the basis of the hearing had signed new contracts in 1994 but later added their names to a petition against the new terms and maintained that they were working under protest. But the tribunal ruled that the signing of the new contracts had been understood and consensual and that no breach of contract had occured.

Mr Evans accused the tribunal of failing to address "clear and irrefutable" evidence linking incorporation with the worsening of conditions.

"It categorically showed that there was a detailed plan to worsen the terms and conditions of lecturers... almost two years before the change of employer took place.

"Given the tribunal's analysis, no worker in any public-sector organisation would have the protection of the Acquired Rights Directive. It seems that the tribunal has assumed that a national government can ride roughshod over the rights of its employees. This cannot be correct."

He added that LEAF would be considering taking the case to Divisional Court for review.

David Gibson, chief executive of the AOC, said he hoped it would put the issue to rest. "Common sense has won through.

"We have always maintained that we didn't believe there was a serious case... I hope it will allow us to get on with the work that has been going on over the past 12 months developing good practice in partnership with the unions, and not permanently opposed to them."

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