Belfast Telegraph

Ulster University chief says sorry after review of its job cuts process

Regret: Professor Paddy Nixon
Regret: Professor Paddy Nixon

By Staff Reporter

The Vice-Chancellor of Ulster University has apologised to staff following an independent review into a botched redundancy process.

The 2016 process resulted in the exit of 143 employees - and has already cost the university £1.6m.

In an email to all staff sent yesterday, Professor Paddy Nixon said he wanted to offer a full and wholehearted apology "for the hurt and anxiety that was caused during the budget review period".

"I sincerely value all my colleagues at Ulster University and I deeply regret that this process fell far short of reflecting the esteem in which I hold you and the respect you deserve."

Ulster University lost a legal battle at an industrial tribunal in 2017 after it failed to consult a trade union on staff redundancies - and was found to have deliberately kept union representatives in the dark.

The university's human resources manager was also found by the tribunal to have "actively misled" the University and College Union (UCU) over the decision-making process.

Employees who were made redundant were awarded a protective award of 90 days' salary - the highest amount allowed in such cases.

Yesterday's apology was one of the recommendations of an independent review commissioned by the university in the wake of the tribunal ruling.

Carried out by employment law consultant Petra Shiels, the review identified a catalogue of managerial and governance failing at the university.

Among her recommendations were the introduction of 'basic industrial relations training' for senior staff, as well as governance training for members of the university's governing bodies - the Council and Senate.

She also found that the university had missed a 'significant opportunity' to settle the industrial tribunal case for £200,000 - instead of the £1.6m it eventually cost.

Ms Shiels said Ulster University believed that the case was strong and defensible.

"However, there appears to have been little reflection on the potential costs of losing, which included the financial costs, the adverse effect on staff morale or the potential reputational damage."

The employment law expert also told the university to apologise to the Universities and Colleges Union for forcing it to take expensive legal action and to apologise to those it unlawfully dismissed.

Lindesay Dawe, president of UCU at Ulster University, said questions still remained.

He said: "The point of the review was to ensure lessons could be learned for the future, but it is deeply worrying to read that some individuals in management are still 'puzzled' as to why they lost the tribunal case.

"The report identifies serious failures amongst all senior levels at the university, and the question must now be what accountability processes will the university implement for those responsible?"

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