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Sussex UCU condemns supposed justification for James Furner’s redundancy

Updated: Oct 19

James Furner, Philosophy Lecturer, University of Sussex in cap and gown at graduations.
James Furner, Philosophy Lecturer, University of Sussex

Sussex UCU today condemns the supposed justification for declaring Philosophy Lecturer James Furner redundant in a letter sent to him on 22 August. James has been employed at the University on consecutive fixed term part-time contracts (currently 0.75 FTE) since September 2021. On 22 August, the University informed him in writing that he will be dismissed at the end of August ‘by reason of redundancy’.

This outcome - which Sussex UCU branch will help James to appeal - comes despite the University having advertised on 7 July a new 1.0 FTE permanent post of Lecturer in Philosophy at the same grade and on the same type of contract as James. According to this advertisement, the new permanent post-holder ‘will be expected’ to teach the same four undergraduate modules that James taught in 2022-3.

This decision is wrongful, and contrary to the University’s own Redundancy Procedure. This Procedure recognises only two situations (bar a change in the University’s location) in which a member of staff can be dismissed by reason of redundancy.

One situation is where ‘the University has ceased or intends to cease to carry out any activity for which a member or members of staff is/are employed’ (2.1.1).

The other situation is where ‘the University’s requirement/s for members of staff to carry out work of a particular kind … has/have ceased or diminished or is/are expected to cease or diminish’ (2.1.2). James has argued that the University’s attempt to advertise a new full-time permanent post of Lecturer in Philosophy was proof that its requirement for ‘members of staff’ (plural) to do work in philosophy was not expected to diminish. But the University has not accepted this.

Its initial response was to treat the abolition of a post (a particular combination of work tasks) as evidence of redundancy. James was told that he was in a redundancy situation because the University did not require James’s post in light of its proposed new post.

Yet 2.1.2. is not about the reduced requirement for particular posts, but the reduced requirement for members of staff to do work of a particular kind. The distinction between a reorganisation of posts and a redundancy situation is acknowledged e.g. in the employment appeal case of Barot v London Borough of Brent, which accepted that:

‘there may be a rationalisation or reorganisation which does not create a redundancy situation. If, overall, the business still requires just as much work of the particular kind in question and just as many employees to do it, then there is no redundancy situation, even if individual jobs disappear as a result’

The University has said that it understood James’s view, but insisted that it was not the University’s. In James’s outcome letter dated 22 August, however, the University dropped the matter and made no reference to 2.1.1 or 2.1.2.

Instead, the University’s supposed justification for redundancy in the outcome letter is that it no longer requires James to teach the modules that he has been teaching because now this ‘teaching … can be undertaken within the workload of faculty members’. This is directly contradicted by the July advert for the new permanent post, which said that the new post-holder ‘will be expected’ to teach on the four UG modules that James has been teaching.

But even if it is true that the modules that James has been teaching could all be undertaken by existing faculty members, this does not produce a redundancy situation. It does not show that the University’s overall requirement for ‘members of staff’ to carry out work in philosophy (or even to carry out particular components of this work) is expected to diminish. As David Cabrelli writes regarding the ‘proper approach to … redundancy generally’ in his authoritative Employment Law in Context. 4th edition (2020, Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 742):

it is misconceived to ask whether the employer’s need for the employee claimant to perform his/her particular job or function has ceased or diminished; instead, the question is whether an employee’s dismissal is caused by a reduction in an employer’s need for employees to perform work of a generic type [emphasis in original]

The proper question to ask is not whether the University requires James to carry out the work that he has been doing. The proper question is whether the University’s overall requirement for employees to do work of this particular kind is expected to diminish. And this requirement is not expected to diminish.

On 7 July, the University placed an advert for a new full-time permanent post of Lecturer in Philosophy to begin on 1 September 2023. It thereby confirmed that its requirement for members of staff to do work in philosophy is not expected to diminish, but indeed to increase. Hence, at least at that time, there was no redundancy situation. The fact that James’s outcome letter says that ‘this post will shortly be advertised’ indicates that nothing has changed since then in respect of the University’s requirement for members of staff to carry out work in philosophy. The sooner that the University acknowledges that James is not redundant, and rehires him permanently, the better.

Please continue to sign our petition calling for this outcome.

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