Friday, 22 February 2013

Fightback Against the Trade Union Witch Hunt at LMU

Following the suspension of Jawad Botmeh and Max Watson at London Metropolitan University last week, part of a trade union witch hunt, and following a threat to de-recognise UNISON, the head of the Working Lives Research Institute (and where Jawad and Max are based), Steve Jeffries, has now been suspended also.
The charges against all three are hoaxes and screens to mask an attack on an Institute whose central role is the development of radical, transformative research and education which resists the type of marketised-privatised agenda of the likes of Malcolm Gilles, Vice Chancellor at LMU.
Details of the LMU UNISON campaign against the suspensions can be found here:
Also, below is the statement from Steve Jeffries calling on trade union support to attack the suspensions and call for reinstatement. Beneath this is the letter from Steve to LMU Governors and provides their contact details:
Do everything you can to support Steve's request - this is truly a fight to protect trade unionism and basic human rights - Ian.
Dear Trade Union Friends,

I'm writing to let you know that I was suspended on Wednesday by Londonmet after a 45 minute investigation into the WLRI because I appointed a former prisoner who had served 13 years imprisonment to a part-time, casual three month maternity cover job in our social justice Institute.
Did I know that his conviction in 1996 was for conspiracy to blow up the Israeli embassy? Yes. I also knew that he had been refused parole for 6 years because he maintained his innocence, and that Paul Foot and Robert Fisk had campaigned for him. And I saw his CV which included his having completed an OU degree in sociology and an MA in Peace and Reconciliation (with merit), as well has having been prisoners' rep on equality issues.
But actually, although this all made him an ideal person to work with us, I felt there was also a basic human rights issues involved. Do we give people a second chance?

The inference involved in my suspension and possible disciplinary action is that either I was involved in some highly sophisticated conspiracy to place a Palestinian terrorist 'sleeper' in a position where he could influence young minds and eventually get elected as staff governor (which five years after Jawad Botmeh started work has now triggered three suspensions), or that I was criminally stupid.

Everyone who knows me or my work knows that I am a principled socialist. But for me, my decision not to discriminate against this applicant whom I had never met, and whom Max Watson (a now very active UNISON trade unionist who is also suspended) had met once at a party is actually the survival of a liberal approach to others in my university. If a Research Institute dedicated to the promotion of social justice in a public institution will not give someone like Jawad the chance to work, who else will?

You'll realise that we are all in a state of shock. Three of the 13 WLRI staff are now suspended. Two others are still under investigation. I fear for our future - just weeks after celebrating our tenth anniversary.

The email addresses of Malcolm Gillies, VC, and the other governors are below. Please do inundate them with emails protesting this awful situation. The UCU and UNISON are united in supporting the three of us who are suspended - and your protest, and those you can encourage others to take, will strengthen their hands in the 'informal contacts' that are taking place in the hope of preventing the university from taking the next step of firing those it has suspended.

Thanks in advance

All the best


(1) My letter to London Governors after suspension
Subject: Suspension of Professor Steve Jefferys
 Dear Governor,
l have worked at Londonmet since 2000 as a research professor. In 2002 I jointly founded and then led the Working Lives Research Institute as its Director. In August 2012 I was appointed Director of the new Faculty Advanced Institute for Research within FSSH, now the largest faculty in the university. In its first 10 years the WLRI brought £7m revenue to the university from externally funded projects. In that time we won 6 ESRC grants, 7 EU DG Research Framework grants, 3 Leverhulme Trust, 2 Nuffield Trust, 2 Joseph Rowntree Foundation and 2 British Library grants. During this time we secured 34 grants carrying out research of trade unions in the UK and Europe, and carried out 13 studies for UK Government departments, 2 for Norwegian government agencies and one for the French ministry of labour. My most recent appraisal (January 2013) states
He has also played an important role in supporting senior managers in the Faculty both through his invaluable contribution at management and executive groups but also in his wider role in the University. I’m indebted to Steve for his support and contribution throughout this period.
Yesterday, however, after a preliminary investigation lasting 45 minutes, and just four weeks after Jawad Botmeh, one of the WLRI admin staff, was elected staff governor, l was suspended with instant effect by the HR Director for "potential gross misconduct" five years ago by not referring Jawad's original application in 2008 for a part-time three-month casual secretarial appointment as a maternity cover to the Deputy Vice Chancellor, my then line manager. I had recommended the appointments of 15 casual staff before Jawad without referring any of them to the DVC, and had not been informed by the university that anyone who declared a criminal conviction should be referred upwards. If I had been informed that this was the policy, as I told the investigation today, I would have adhered to it. But I was not told this was the case, and no-one at the hearing today could refer me to a policy suggesting we should discriminate against people who had served prison sentences, or against people with particular kinds of convictions. Neither, during the first decade of the WLRI when a total of 50 staff were recruited was I ever given or offered any training in recruitment procedures. So when I was asked by one of my admin staff, Max Watson, whether or not I considered that Jawad's application should be treated in the normal way, I looked at his CV, covering letter and reference, which included the fact that he had an OU degree and Coventry University MA and had been a prisoner's representative for equalities, and replied yes. That is then what happened. Three other colleagues interviewed him for this casual post, and decided to recommend to me that I appoint him, which is what I did. The WLRI mission to undertake 'academic, applied and socially-committed research and teaching emphasising equality and social justice into all aspects of working lives' includes both appointing a highly diverse workforce and offering people a second chance.
Jawad worked effectively, diligently and was an excellent colleague, and when in 2010 an 18-month post was advertised, he applied for it - and declared his conviction on a form which this time procedure meant went to HR, who then organised the interview and upon his being recommended by a three-strong interview panel wrote to him offering him the post. HR approved the post, and in so doing endorsed my earlier decision not to make his lengthy prison experience a reason for not employing him. A month later, the University dismissed him because of a Home Office letter saying incorrectly he did not have the right to work; but a week later when they revised this advice the University reinstated him. Again it is not credible that no-one in HR opened his file at this crisis point. Back at work he continued to work effectively in his new role - as indeed he has done up to two weeks ago when he and Max Watson were both suspended. At no point prior to his election as staff governor was my initial decision not to discriminate against him in 2008 questioned. He worked for nearly five years and was praised by all who worked with him.
I sincerely do not believe I have done anything wrong. With the advantage of hindsight I might have approached the then vice chancellor or the DVC informally for their opinions. What they would have suggested can only be a matter of conjecture (I believe they actually would have said, 'give him a chance'). But to suggest that not making that approach can - five years later - be termed 'gross misconduct' worthy of instant suspension is clearly unfair. Unfair on me and on the WLRI's record in social justice research. It is also clearly unfair that Max Watson should be suspended for his involvement in the appointment. He met Jawad once and drew his attention to the vacancy we had at the WLRI, and then properly asked me whether I considered in the light of all the facts it was appropriate for consideration. Jawad, too, is being treated unfairly. He served time for a serious offence, he declared his conviction, and then worked as an excellent colleague for five years. Should ex-prisoners not be given a second chance?
Finally, I believe these suspensions are unfair on the whole university. We have come through so many problems in the last four years - some externally and some internally driven. This is not the moment to jeopardise student recruitment and our reputation again. I do hope you will exercise your influence now to secure rapid and meaningful negotiations to resolve what is a totally unnecessary conflict.
yours truly
Professor Steve Jefferys
Director, Faculty Advanced Institute for Research,
Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities

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