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Fixed term employees and collective redundancy consultation

In the case of University of Stirling v University and College Union, the Employment Appeal Tribunal held that the collective redundancy consultation obligations did not apply to the University’s fixed term employees whose contracts expired on the agreed end date against the background of other redundancies. This was on the basis that they had been dismissed for a “reason relating to them as individuals” (expiry of funding; delivery of specific tasks; maternity/sick leave cover) and not for redundancy.

This was recognised as a significant change in the law as previously the standard approach had been to include fixed term employees in the numbers for collective consultation purposes, irrespective of whether their employment was terminated for reasons relating to their individual contracts or as part of a general cost cutting exercise.

It is now clear that the EAT decision was not the final word on the subject. The University and College Union has appealed to the Court of Session and last week the government issued a consultation on collective redundancy consultation. It is proposing to reduce the 90 day consultation period to either 30 or 45 days and to introduce a new non-statutory code of practice. It notes that the University of Stirling case represented a ‘departure from previous thinking’, which will be addressed in the code. The government is currently of the view that it would be difficult to construct a suitable exemption from the consultation requirements for fixed-term employees.

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