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V-c: I will sack the rebel staff

Brian Roper, the vice-chancellor of London Metropolitan University, is prepared to sack hundreds of lecturers to win a dispute over contracts. He said this week: "I've coped with worse."

Dr Roper said that he did not expect a mass sacking to be necessary, but he warned that lecturers' union Natfhe was inviting its members to "put their heads in a noose" by advising them to reject new contracts.

The university informed 387 staff from the former London Guildhall University, which merged with the University of North London to create London Met, that they would be sacked automatically if they failed to sign a new contract of employment by September 1.

Speaking to The Times Higher this week, Dr Roper said the new contract was entirely appropriate, was within the national pay framework and had been in place for North London staff for years, with Natfhe's agreement.

He said Natfhe had failed to specify its objections to it.

Dr Roper confirmed that staff would be deemed to have terminated their employment if they did not accept the new contract. He said Natfhe had "got it wrong" by suggesting staff could continue to work under the old contract, as it officially would no longer exist from September 1.

As The Times Higher went to press, Natfhe said that about 200 lecturers were refusing to back down and that the union would escalate its campaign of industrial action.

"We have not cracked," said Roger Kline, head of the universities department at Natfhe. "We have got a clear majority of staff refusing (to sign) the contract, and our industrial action and academic boycott are very much still on."

The union declared a dispute with London Met earlier this year when it attempted to harmonise staff contracts - demanding that staff from Guildhall accept contracts in place at North London.

Natfhe said the contract was less favourable than the old Guildhall one, but also strongly objected to what it claimed was a total lack of proper consultation.

This week Natfhe confirmed that "more than half" the 387 staff had signed pro forma letters formally rejecting the new contract, which Natfhe planned to pass on to the university.

The signatories intended to return to work as normal but insisted that they would be working under the old Guildhall contract.

Natfhe said the large number of signatures came despite a letter earlier this month from Lyn Link, the university's director of human resources, which Natfhe said had been clearly designed to "intimidate" staff.

Ms Link warned in the letter: "Should you choose to sign and return (Natfhe's) pro forma letter to the university... this will be deemed to be a formal declaration from you of your non-acceptance of continued employment... and your decision that your employment with the university will end on August 31, 2004."

A Natfhe branch meeting resolved late last week to escalate industrial action. It agreed to a demonstration for September 1, "a series of strikes" to begin during freshers' week later this month, and an immediate legal challenge "against the imposition of a new contract".

phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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