EAMONN MCCANN - Civil rights at NWRC

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There’s your rights under the rule of law and then your rights under the rules of the North West Regional College.

Five members of the University and College Union were called to a disciplinary investigation to be held yesterday for holding up banners reading “No redundancies” and “No to the bully” during last Thursday’s opening of the new £18 million extension to the college.

Also tomorrow, two UCU branch officers, secretary Denis Pegg and chairman David Limb, who have been told they are to shifted from their senior lecturer positions, face an appeal hearing in front of the Governing Body. Lecturers at the college fear that the move, which will leave the two men in limbo, could prove to be a preliminary to declaring them redundant.

The five members of staff who held up the banners each received an email from head of department Dorothy McElwee on Friday afternoon summoning them to yesterday’s meeting “to discuss your involvement in the protest that took place on Thursday 9 June 2011 at the formal opening of the Foyle Building.”

Said one of the lecturers involved: “The idea that a person’s job could be at risk for supporting other colleagues facing redundancy should be totally unacceptable to all of us who value workers’ rights”.

Many might agree that for this to happen in Derry, which rather fancies itself as the birthplace of the civil rights movement, compounds the inappropriate offensiveness of the proceedings.

You can be hauled into a hearing which could result in loss of your job for displaying a banner supporting fellow-workers fighting redundancy?

Says UCU Regional Official Jimmy McKeown: “Normal industrial relations at the college are non-existent. Top management dictate and anyone who dares challenge or dissent from their views find themselves in the firing line for the chop or disciplinary action.

“UCU activists over the past five years have faced hostility and attack for daring to stand up for members and to defend terms and conditions of employment. Our members at the college work in an environment of fear and intimidation....These latest acts by management are an attack on the right to peaceful protest. In 1968 Derry people led the way for civil rights – now they’re having to do that again.”

It would be useful to know from members of the Governing Body how and why, in their view, this strange and unsettling situation has developed, whom they hold responsible, what their own role has been and what they believe should be done now to remedy the position.