Friday, February 22, 2013

And then there were three...


 CATHERINE MACGUIRE, (centre), Unison branch committee, speaking at Holloway road protest.

IS the management at London Metropolitan University intent on a confrontation with union members and if so, what is behind it? Are they happy to court yet more bad publicity, and make their institution a focus for protests?

On Monday, a crowd of about 150 people gathered outside the University's Tower building premises on the Holloway Road. For a mid-day demonstration, called at fairly short notice, it was not bad. There were members of the public service union Unison employed by London Met, members of the University and Colleges Union (UCU) which represents academics, and several other trades unionists and students.

We were there to back two London Met staff members who have been suspended, one of them Max Watson chair of the Unison branch at London Met, and the other former prisoner Jawad Botmeh, who was facing a hearing that afternoon.  Both men were employed in the University's Working Lives Research Institute (WLRI).

Jawad, the so-called "embassy bomber" who has always protested his innocence, had been in the job for five years, without any complaints from academic staff or post-graduate students who worked with him. He had never concealed his criminal conviction from the university when applying for the job. Indeed, considering it had been a well-publicised case - many say a notorious stitch-up - it would have been hard to make it a secret.

 This year Jawad was overwhelmingly elected as one of two staff representatives on the London Met's Board of Governors. Two weeks later, on February 7, he was suspended. 

Max Watson, as a union member, seems to have been singled out for opposing staff curs and privatisation steps, as well as for his support for colleague Jawad. He too was suspended on February 7.

And now, as reported on the Defend Max and Jawad Facebook page, there are three.

"Professor Steve Jefferys, European employment relations academic, Director of Londonmet’s Faculty Advanced Institute for Research (FAIR) and head of WLRI, was suspended on Wednesday 20 February for ‘potential gross misconduct’. Five years previously, he had agreed that Jawad Botmeh should have the chance of going forward to be interviewed as a part-time casual administrative worker on a temporary three month contract in WLRI, when Jawad had a criminal record (he had served 13 years on a conspiracy charge).

"Jawad Botmeh, after working for five years to the complete satisfaction of all staff and post-graduate students who worked with him, was overwhelmingly elected to the Board of Governors as one of two staff representatives. Two weeks later, on February 7 he was suspended.

"Max Watson, a WLRI administrator who is also Chair of the Londonmet UNISON branch, was also suspended on February 7. Max had been recently singled out by the Vice-Chancellor in an all staff email because of UNISON’s opposition to the involvement of Capita in the university’s Business Process Review.

"Steve, Jawad and Max have broken no university rules. They have all been entirely open and honest with the university. Professor Jefferys had the authority to make casual appointments. There were no procedures suggesting he should discriminate against former prisoners. Jawad had twice informed the university in writing of his earlier prison sentence and conviction and this evidence is on their files.

"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’. 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"

 I'm wondering whether the London Met was on its own in deciding to move after Jawad Botmeh was elected a staff govenor, or if in the following two weeks someone, somewhere helped it to reach that decision.

I'm also surprised that after a couple of immediate reports in the Times and Telegraph about Jawad Botmeh's suspension this case is not getting much coverage in the media. I'll have to do my best to cover it in this blog. 

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