Queen Mary University has been accused of attacking trade union rights following the suspension of the secretary of its Unison branch.
Unions and student activists say Vik Chechi, 24, was deliberately targeted due to his trade union activities and vocal opposition to cuts and redundancies.
Chechi was suspended with a view to dismissal from his work at Centre of the Cell, a science education charity at the University, on October 18. This was on the grounds of gross misconduct relating to attendance, time-keeping and for making ‘vexatious and undermining complaints’.
Yet supporters of Chechi say that he was singled out for supporting workers at a time when around 100 academic and support jobs across campus are threatened. They also claim that the university did not adhere to proper disciplinary procedures.
A spokesperson for Unison QMU branch told East London Lines: “Management says he was not targeted, as he was suspended from work and not his trade union activities – which is ridiculous. It is an attempt to decapitate the union so that he won’t be able to continue his work.”
The spokesperson also said the suspension was ordered by the same member of management against whom Chechi and colleagues had recently lodged a collective grievance. The union say he had received no prior oral or written warning and that the issues raised against him were all logged after his election as branch secretary.
Chechi had been involved in mobilising library staff after the University announced 26 redundancies last summer, following a consultation that Unison say two thirds of employees were not present for.
His supporters claim this and other union-related work led to complaints by managers across different departments. They argue that these in conjunction with his own complaint against a manager were the motivation for his suspension.
In response a QMU spokesperson said that the university could not comment on the employment matters of members of staff, except to say that Chechi was: “Not in any way barred from his role as a representative of Unison”.
The campaign to have Chechi reinstated has gained support from lecturers’ union UCU, who last week passed a unanimous motion condemning the suspension.
Richard Saull, UCU branch secretary, said: “We were very shocked to hear of Vik’s suspension and believe that the issues do not warrant a claim of gross misconduct. We are concerned that college procedures have not been followed and we regard an attack on one trade union as an attack on all”.
Meanwhile students involved in the group QMU Stop the Cuts have added their backing. A protest in support of Chechi is planned for Tuesday 15 November outside the Garrod Building in Whitechapel campus.