Clash between college and union officials in Eastbourne

Sussex Downs College SUS-160811-110420001
Sussex Downs College SUS-160811-110420001

Union members and education bosses have clashed over what has been described as an unprecedented attack on employment and union rights.

Teachers and education professionals at the National Education Union condemned the East Sussex College Group, a merger of Sussex Downs and Sussex Coast College, saying the new “super college unilaterally de-recognised employees’ trade union this week, and withdrew elected reps’ rights to represent colleagues”.

But the college group says the NEU has not provided the information needed to be recognised.

The NEU’s Nick Childs said, “We were so excited about the new academic year, yet management have acted like some sort of Victorian mill owner and told us they will no longer recognise our union nor let our elected reps do their job. It’s upsetting and is no doubt due to the success of the NEU in protecting education provision and compulsory redundancies over many years where others unions have not been able to do so.

“Our members and community were promised stability and improvement in further education provision, after years of decline, yet within weeks of opening, the college leadership has reverted back to past form by attacking staff. By doing so, they place the education of students at risk by provoking an unnecessary industrial dispute, causing low morale and poor staff retention.

“If college management think that by trying to deny employees’ union rights that they will be able to more easily force through job and education cuts they are sorely wrong. Our members are made of sterner stuff and will not allow anti-union practices to prevail.

“The union has written to the college group requesting an urgent meeting and calling on them to sign a formal recognition agreement or face a possible strike ballot and high profile campaign.”

The college group’s Tim Hulme said that following the merger of the two colleges in March 2018, all Sussex Downs College staff were successfully transferred into the new East Sussex College Group.

Mr Hulme said, “At the point of merger, the college group continued with its strong relationship with both UCU and Unison for pay and conditions negotiations. The most recent membership data suggests that the majority of our colleagues who are union members are members of these well-established unions.

“Despite numerous attempts to gain similar membership information from NEU, no information has been provided. However, college leaders have continued to invite NEU to joint trade union meetings in an attempt to forge a working relationship.

“Disappointingly the issues outlined by the NEU have not been raised at these meetings and we are dismayed to read the reasons NEU have given as to why they have not been recognised.

“Strong employer-employee relations are built on trust and shared understanding. The college really prides itself on the strength of our working relationship with UCU and Unison and since merger, we have made good progress working in partnership on a range of important matters. These regular, critical employer-employee relations meetings will continue to occur.”