Rebuilding trust at NWRC a ‘challenging task’ - Minister

(1902SL07)

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The process of rebuilding trust between management and staff at the North West Regional College will be a “challenging task”, the north’s Employment and Learning Minister has said.

Dr Stephen Farry was speaking after his department today officially published the report of the review of industrial relations at the college.

On Tuesday the ‘Journal’ reported that the report, conducted by equality and human resources consultant Harry McConnell, details allegations that staff are working within a “culture of fear” and suggests it could take up to five years for relations between staff and management to heal.

“The report clearly identifies that the NWRC needs to rebuild trust between staff, management and the unions,” Dr. Farry said.

“This will be a challenging task which will require all sides to commit to a process of change. Management and unions at the college will have to work together to create this change.”

The minister said efforts to rebuild trust are already underway.

“The Governing Body will wish to consider the report’s findings in detail. However, its recommendations support initiatives already underway in NWRC to bring about a more collaborative working environment. In particular, implementation of the college’s improvement plan provides an opportunity to re-build trust between college management, staff and unions.”

He said he will “monitor the situation closely.”

“This process will be difficult but the Governing Body has assured me that it is committed to addressing these issues and it has my full support in this regard.”

NWRC Governing Body chairman Bertie Faulkner said the body “accept the core tenet of the report.”

He said a Project Team had been established to address the issues identified. and that “we will not stop until these issues have been addressed.”

“We have concerns in relation to the perceived culture within the organisation as represented in the report, in particular the perceived levels of trust, respect and fear within the College and the nature of the relationship between the College and the University and College Union (UCU),” he said.

“We recognise the need to rebuild respect and trust between staff, management and the Governing Body and it is especially important that the UCU, at both regional and branch level, commit fully to succeeding in this task.”

“We accept the recommendations of the report, which are aligned with the College Improvement Programme initiated just before Christmas 2012. This programme will be implemented by a Project Team which has been assembled from all levels of management and staff within the college. It will be chaired by a member of the Governing Body.”

The University and College Union today welcomed the report.

Regional Official Jim McKeown said: ”This report shows that the culture of fear at the college pervades every level of the organisation – teachers, support staff, middle managers - all testify there is a culture of fear. The report says they have experienced aggressive and intimidating behaviour, a lack of transparency and openness and a denial of natural justice.

“UCU members who have stood up for themselves and their colleagues have been smeared, vilified and maligned. Some of them have had their jobs re-organised from beneath them, others have been sacked, others disciplined. They are to be commended for their strength and courage.”

He added:” ”This report is nearly 100 pages long – we will study it carefully. There are lessons here also for management at other colleges. We will examine the recommendations carefully and if there is a willingness by the Governing Body at the North West to genuinely address the issues raised they will not find UCU wanting.”

NWRC is one of Derry’s biggest employers, employing more than 800 staff.