Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry concedes relations between the academics’ union and management at the ‘tech’ have once again broken down, a year after a critical report on industrial relations at the college was published.
And Dr Farry is clear in his view about where the blame lies.
He believes the University and College Union (UCU) needs to engage more with the ‘industrial relations machinery’ at the North West Regional College (NWRC) in order to allow management rebuild trust at the institution.
It’s now a year since Harry McConnell published his critical report on industrial relations at the ‘tech.’
An action plan was agreed in May 2013 on how to implement his recommendations, to heal divisions and to take the NWRC forward into the 2010s and 2020s.
A ‘Change Manager’ was consequently employed in June 2013 in order to lead this process.
But now Dr Farry has revealed that the local branch of the UCU has not participated in a Joint Consultative Committee at NWRC and it is not currently engaging with the aforementioned Change Manager.
Responding to an Assembly Question tabled by Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney, Dr Farry declared: “The review of industrial relations clearly stated that the local UCU branch should re-engage with the industrial relations machinery in the college as a quid pro quo for a commitment from management to begin the process of developing a strategy to rebuild trust.
“The college has clearly demonstrated that commitment and, indeed, agreed a reformed structure with regional officials of UCU. Therefore, it is disappointing that the local UCU branch remains outside the reformed local industrial relations machinery.”
The Minister said that rebuilding trust at the college required ‘reciprocity.’
“The review made it clear that all parties in the college bore responsibility for the industrial relations difficulties and required everyone to take actions to work within the college to change the patterns of relationships. The Governing Body and senior management team have invested considerable time and energy in implementing the report’s recommendations,” he added.
Dr Farry said the Chair and temporary Chair of the Governing Body had shown particular commitment to the process and placed the blame for the impasse squarely with the UCU.
“Therefore, at this stage, the lack of engagement by the local UCU branch and its unwillingness to demonstrate its commitment to rebuilding trust is the major difficulty in progressing the programme of change at the college,” he stated.
Dr Farry also revealed that there are items on the action plan that are behind schedule but he doesn’t think this is a problem.
“I am content that these are not problematic, given the workload of the Governing Body and the fact that it has decided to extend the consultation around the HR strategy,” he stated.