Union row could lead to re-run of election

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THE ELECTION for the top job at Natfhe, the university and college lecturers' union, may need to be re-run because of a legal row over a candidate's nomination.

Jean Cook, the president, and last year's vice-president, of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, had applied for the post of general secretary of the 80,000-strong union.

Each application for the post has to be supported by 10 ten nominees who are to be members of the union. 'To my surprise, and to the surprise of the person concerned, one of my nominees was two weeks in arrears with her subscriptions. She did not know, and nor did I,' Ms Cook said.

As a result her nomination was ruled invalid by the union's deputy returning officer, also her deputy. Ironically, had she not been involved in the election, in any other election, Ms JeanCook, as president, would have been the returning officer. Because she was involved, the task fell to her deputy.

The election is now under way, and the closing date for the return of ballot papers is next Monday. May 16th. But Ms Cook has lodged a complaint with the certification officer, who, under trades union legislation, has to decide whether a candidate has been unreasonably excluded from an election.

Ms Cook, a lecturer in industrial relations and social policy at Middlesex University, comes well armed. 'There is no case history that is relevant,' she said. 'I thought it was an extremely unreasonable decision. But I do not want to personalise it.'

She has a personal hearing on 19 May. The certification officer has no formal powers of compulsion but, if the decision is in her favour, Natfhe would almost certainly order a re-run of the election.

The certification officer makes a declaration, and then an aggrieved party could go to the courts, if necessary, to seek a remedy. A spokesman for the certification officer, who confirmed the details of the case, said: 'We will hear the arguments from both sides and then make a report with recommendations. It is then up to Natfhe, or the courts, to decide what to do.'

Six people have applied for the post. are contesting the job for general secretary of NATFHE. Five are members of the union, and one is a member of the Association of University Teachers. It is a tough job. The union is currently planning an escalating programme of strike action in colleges, fighting new contracts which have not been negotiated with staff. The union intends the action to continue in September.