‘Three to five years to rebuild trust’ at NWRC

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Relations between staff and management at the North West Regional College (NWRC) could take five years to heal, an independent report has found.

The report, conducted on behalf of the north’s Department of Employment and Learning by equality and human resources consultant Harry McConnell, details allegations that staff are working within a “culture of fear.”

The Review of Industrial Relations, a copy of which has been seen by the ‘Journal’, was originally due to be published last month but will now be made public on Thursday.

The 84 page report was commissioned by DEL following a deterioration in staff/management relations over the last few years at NWRC. It notes that around “a dozen” staff members were interviewed away from the College by the author because they feared reprisals if they were seen contributing to the report.

The report outlines that since 2007, a total of 29 NWRC staff have been disciplined. Mr McConnell said this “seemed greater than would normally be expected” and further describes a prevalence of “low morale, fear and low trust” at NWRC. The report states: “It is equally clear that this does not just affect teaching staff but extends to all staff, as evidenced by the difficulty in encouraging support staff to stand as representatives because of fear of being targeted.

“These perceptions should be concerning for any organisation, especially one which should be characterised by a supportive approach to learning and staff relations.”

It continues: “Against this background management, who has the responsibility for managing, must take action to redress the position and rebuild trust.”

The report describes difficulties between College management and the University and Colleges Union (UCU) which has 320 members at NWRC. It notes a “mutual animosity” between NWRC Principal Seamus Murphy and Regional UCU official Jim McKeown.

The report states: “It has been an unattractive element of this dispute that matters have been highly personalised by both sides.

“It seems to me that for at least three years the two sides - management and UCU - have engaged in confrontation - sometimes deliberately on both sides.

“UCU must now show that it will be able to change how it behaves and work effectively with management and other unions in addressing the changes needed to meet the demands of the college in the future.

“Senior management must be able to lead on change for the whole college.”

Mr McConnell further states management must show “ that it has the capability and credibility to bring about the change in its own leadership behaviours needed to rebuild trust amongst staff.”

Mr McConnell said it will need “organisation wide change to rebuild trust” but warned this “will take time and is not likely to be achieved in a period of less than 3-5 years.” The report concludes: “Specific obligations are required of all groups. There will need to be a sustained programme of change, but it will be held together by an effective set of values lived out by all, and with people at the core.”

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