Edinburgh lecturer with cerebral palsy 'humiliated' after being told to apply for pool cleaner job

The lecturer was copied into an email from HR which said ‘unfortunately, work was found for her’.
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A disabled Edinburgh College lecturer said she felt ‘humiliated’ after she was threatened with redundancy then encouraged to apply for a job as a spa pool cleaner.

Penny Gower, who has cerebal palsy, said she was devastated after being told she was going to lose her job. The grandmother-of-three, who has worked in further education for more than three decades, had her health and safety course for front line workers axed with just one day’s notice.

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She was then shocked when she was invited to apply for a role in the commercial spa as a pool cleaner. She said bosses were ‘well aware’ she was physically not able to do the job due to her cerebal palsy - a lifelong condition which affects movement and coordination.

Penny GowerPenny Gower
Penny Gower

Ms Gower told the Evening News: “After I was told I was going to be made redundant I was encouraged to apply for a position at the commercial spa as a pool cleaner. I have cerebal palsy. I wouldn’t be able to do that job and they were well aware of that. This was discrimination, no doubt. It was a horrible time."

But after finally being redeployed, Ms Gower, 73, then received a copy of an email from human resources which stated that ‘unfortunately, a job has been found for her’. The email seen by the Evening News also said ‘if I was in your college I think I’d be up for murder’.

Now, Ms Gower said she feels she has to speak out to support colleagues during rolling strike action, after another colleague was made redundant under cost-saving cuts.

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She said: “I felt humiliated and it was hurtful to then see an email saying ‘unfortunately, work was found for her’. As a union representative you get used to being singled out but I’ve never seen anything as personal as that. Discussing my murder might have been meant as a joke, but it’s no joke really when HR reveals that sort of hostility to you.”

Ms Gower who has worked at Edinburgh College for more than twenty years was redeployed in early 2022 and now teaches part-time at the Granton campus. She claims the health and safety course she delivered to front line workers was unfairly axed with 24 hours notice.

She added: "Cancelling a full health and safety, 10 week class with just one day's notice given to the hospital workers, teachers, prison officers, fire fighters all of whom had organised cover, in the middle of the Covid pandemic was really shocking. This made a case for my redundancy. There was a wait list for the course and no previous issues were raised. It was unfair.

“I was really distressed and raised it with HR. It made me feel unsafe. It was a slur on my professionalism. I raised it again this summer during cuts and voluntary redundancies, but it has still not been addressed. It has been eating away at me. This sort of conduct needs to be called out. I was nervous about going to a tribunal because I didn’t think I’d be able to keep teaching and I really love my job. I’m happy to be employed and still able to help students.”

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Along with other staff members in the union, Ms Gow is now on strike campaigning for the reinstatement of Kevin Scally, another EIS representative who was made redundant. The union has claimed that staff jobs are “under assault” with students’ learning having suffered as a result.

Overall, 180 staff were identified as ‘at risk’ of redundancy earlier this year as a result of ‘curriculum reshaping’ while Edinburgh college made cost-saving cuts. Many of the jobs which were at risk under proposed cuts were saved, while others have since taken voluntary redundancy. Mr Scally was the only staff member to lose his job. He claims he was victimised, which the college has denied.

A spokesperson for Edinburgh College said: “The College takes accusations of discrimination seriously and has a robust process in place to investigate instances when they are reported. We are committed to providing an inclusive environment for staff where everyone feels welcome, supported and respected.

“As part of the College’s policy, in instances of potential redeployment, staff are given a list of current vacancies across the organisation with the opportunity to apply for roles most suited to them.”

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