LondonMet – is the tide turning over union “witch hunt”?

UNISON and UCU branches at London Metropolitan University believe the suspension of 3 staff members is part of attack by the university authorities after high-profile union campaigns against privatisation of services at the east London campus.
by - 26th February 2013, 10.08 BST

LondonMet witch huntSupporters of 3 leading trade unionists suspended by the embattled London Metropolitan University have welcomed news that the head of HR at the university is to step down earlier than expected.

Following a public campaign demanding the reinstatement of the 3 staff members, supporters say the early departure of Lyn Link may be a sign that “the tide is turning” in their favour.

UNISON branch chair Max Watson, the recently-elected staff rep on the board of governors, Jawad Botmeh and Professor Steve Jeffries are facing charges of gross misconduct.

Supporters say none of them has broken university rules.

Both the UNISON and UCU branches believe the suspensions are part of an attack by the university authorities on the unions, which have campaigned successfully in the past year against privatisation of key services on the campus and in favour of a visa amnesty for international students threatened with expulsion from the UK by the Borders Agency.

Around 150 members of staff and other activists took part in a lobby on 15 February to coincide with disciplinary hearings against the three.

Officials have given no formal indication of why they have been suspended, but they believe it relates to Jawad Botmeh’s appointment to a post at the university’s Working Lives Research Institute [WLRI], five years ago.

He was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in jail in connection with the 1994 bombing of the Israeli embassy in London.

Released in 2008, supporters say he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice and they believe the university has only chosen to question his appointment now because he was elected to the board of governors.

UNISON says Jawad Botmeh declared his conviction when he applied to work at the university and that Professor Jefferys had the authority to make casual appointments.

In a statement, the branch says: “The WLRI was set up by LondonMet to undertake ‘academic, applied and socially-committed research and teaching emphasising equality and social justice into all aspects of working lives’.

“We believe now is the time for the university to be fair to the Institute and its staff.

“These suspensions are an attack on the principles of staff rights and representation, on social justice and on academic freedom.”

More than 1200 people have signed a petition calling for the 3 to be re-instated. Last week, the RMT general secretary Bob Crow wrote to the university expressing ‘shock and disgust’ at their treatment.

Campaigners are organising a public meeting designed to highlight their case, in north London next week.