MLA’s anger after college ignored advice from Stormont on resolving a bitter dispute
The North West Regional College (NWRC) defied Government advice as officials tried to help resolve a bitter dispute between staff and management.
The governing body at the college ignored Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) suggestions that it stop all disciplinary and redundancy action against staff in August 2011.
The details, revealed to Pat Ramsey MLA in a Freedom of Information request, show that on August 16, 2011, the chairman of the NWRC board of governors, Bertie Faulkner, was asked to consider suspending such actions.
But Mr Faulkner replied to DEL’s director of further education, Mary McIvor, to say that there was “no question of any suspension” and took issue with the tone of a previous letter.
Ms McIvor had warned that there was “a clear need to demonstrate that the GB (governing body) is in control of the issues and that it is determined to ensure that redundancy and disciplinary procedures are applied fairly, consistently and transparently”.
Mr Faulkner and college principal Seamus Murphy have been summoned to appear before the DEL committee on March 14 amid growing concerns over relations between staff and college bosses.
Relations have been deteriorating since some lecturers faced disciplinary procedures for protesting at employment practices and planned redundancies back in June 2011.
Senior politicians in the north west, along with former staff at the college, weighed in to call on DEL Minister Stephen Farry to intervene.
In light of the concerns, DEL announced that the college’s governing body would instigate an urgent review of employment practices and procedures.
The review has since been completed by PriceWaterhouseCoopers — but the details have not been disclosed.
The governing body has also set up a sub-committee to examine the decision on redundancies.
Foyle SDLP MLA Mr Ramsey said, however, that nothing short of an independent review would now be sufficient.
Reacting angrily to the correspondence in the FoI request, the Stormont DEL committee member said: “I am frankly appalled that, primarily, anyone would seek to act against advice given from the department when the college is a public body funded with public money.
“All of the elected representatives in Foyle unanimously called for a halt to disciplinary, redundancy and redeployment practices by the college in July 2011 and this was ignored, but to have the director of further education in the department echo our calls and be ignored is unforgivable.”
Mr Ramsey added: “I have repeatedly called for an independent review into human resource issues at the college, and the information I received via my request, while referring to the review into redundancy and disciplinary procedures, shows the concern prevalent at the highest levels of the department regarding the conduct of the college and its board.”
A spokesman for the North West Regional College yesterday said: “The college has no comment on this issue at this time.”
A DEL spokeswoman said that in the course of its relations with the college, the department “discusses and debates” many issues.
She added: “However, as NWRC is an incorporated statutory body, it is responsible for all employment related matters including determining staffing complements, managing performance and staff discipline.
“The department is in regular contact with the governing body of NWRC and has offered its advice and assistance in the restoration of effective employment relations.”
“I am frankly appalled that anyone would seek to act against advice given from the department when the college is a public body funded with public money. All of the elected representatives in Foyle unanimously called for a halt to disciplinary, redundancy and redeployment practices by the college in July 2011 and this was ignored, but to have the director of further education in the department echo our calls and be ignored is unforgivable.” — Pat Ramsey