Francis Hanna & Co says victory against Ulster University has ‘significant ramifications’

Martin Hanna, partner at Francis Hanna & Co
Martin Hanna, partner at Francis Hanna & Co

Lawyers acting for the University and College Union (UCU) say their victory in a case against Ulster University has “significant ramifications” for employers and unions involved in redundancies.

Francis Hanna & Co acted in the challenge to the university’s failure to consult on redundancies, securing the maximum award for staff involved.

Barrister Tom Brown of Cloisters was instructed in the case.

UCU sought to challenge the university after 143 members of teaching and other staff lost their jobs in April 2016 due to a substantial reduction in the university’s DEL funding. Some faculties were closed at the time and undergraduate numbers were reduced.

The Employment Tribunal held that large scale redundancies were inevitable by June 2015 and that discussions ought to have begun with the union much earlier than they did. The university had failed in its obligations, both under statute and its own redundancy policy.

They found that the process was a “fait accompli” with no opportunity for input by the trade union, who were “actively misled” and “ostracised” by the university management. UCU were provided with insufficient time and information to meaningfully engage with counter proposals.

Effectively, the Tribunal said, the University “put a gun” to the heads of the affected employees. Its failures, the Tribunal said, meant some staff were treated very poorly which was a “deeply unsatisfactory consequence”. The Tribunal found the failures were deliberate and there was an intention to keep UCU out of the process.

The case looked at the law on the duty to consult about redundancies and whether this had been complied with. It considered whether these redundancies amounted to dismissals, which it found they had. Further, consideration was given to what protective award should be made to which staff and for what period.

The Tribunal made the maximum award of compensation, finding that the university failed egregiously in its duties.

Martin Hanna, partner at Francis Hanna & Co, said: “We are delighted with this result which has significant ramifications not only for the Trade Union and staff involved but also for the university and other employers, employees and unions involved in redundancies.

“The decision provides important guidance for employers on the duty to consult with Trade Unions and the timeliness and sufficiency of that consultation. Further it serves as an important reminder of the effect of an employer failing to adhere to its legal obligations.”