Strike-hit provider 'set positive example'

18th June 2010 at 01:00
At Oakhill Secure Training Centre, claims of bullying were so widespread that the University and College Union (UCU) went on strike in protest

At Oakhill Secure Training Centre, claims of bullying were so widespread that the University and College Union (UCU) went on strike in protest. So it might seem an unlikely model for dealing with complaints.

But UCU officials involved in the case say The Manchester College, which is in dispute with the union over a range of issues and is threatening to derecognise it, nevertheless made some positive moves that other colleges could learn from.

When the college took over the Oakhill centre, near Milton Keynes, it was struggling and management faced a big task to turn it around, which meant a relentless focus on quality and performance. But to staff it seemed that managers were ruling by fear and intimidation.

An investigation by senior management could have faced a credibility problem with staff and so, in a bold move that exceeded the requirements of the nationally agreed bullying policy, they appointed a union official to a three-person panel.

Christiane Ohsan, UCU national official for prison education, said the panel consisted of herself, a senior manager and a human resources representative.

"The Manchester College went beyond the agreement in setting up the panel, which allowed staff to come forward and show management what was really going on, and take appropriate action," she said.

In the end, most staff decided to leave rather than wait to see whether the situation improved. By the time of the strike last summer, nearly two- thirds had already quit, reflecting a common view among many staff that complaining about bullying does not get results.

But Ms Ohsan said a similar investigations panel with union involvement could get results under other circumstances.

"I think it's a good approach: it takes away the `them and us' attitude," she said. "Staff need to have confidence in the process and it's a constructive way forward."

In a statement The Manchester College said it had clear policies in place to address issues of bullying and harassment and that it investigates accusations thoroughly.

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