Union slams council policy on complaints

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A UNION official has claimed some Craigavon Council employees have been ‘forced out’ with work related stress after being bullied and harassed because they had informally complained.

GMB official John Dawson also accused the Council of ‘failure’ regarding its grievance procedure.

He said councillors who use the term ‘grievance culture’ within the council were ‘out of touch’.

He also questioned how the grievance policy and procedure is implemented by the Council’s senior officers.

Mr Dawson claimed the council was trying to blame the trade unions for encouraging grievances.

He explained that employees have the right to trigger a grievance and there is an ‘informal process’ within council to resolve issues before they become formal complaints.

However he claimed many grievances go straight to the formal stage and, on occasions, senior officers have become involved.

Mr Dawson also claimed that one grievance under investigation centres around the alleged involvement of a councillor regarding an operational issue.

He accused council officers of using the term ‘vintage grievances’ and he was shocked to discover some grievances were at least six years old.

He said employees were stressed due to the delay and claimed genuine grievances were not being investigated.

Mr Dawson also claimed that there were ‘a protected species’ within council regarding complaints.

“Some Employees are being forced to lodge grievances simply to get an answer to a question when it would be more prudent to set up a meeting to address the issue,” he said.

He claimed there was a failure within human resources to defuse situations and directors were getting involved and ‘inflaming the situation’.

Mr Dawson said following the discovery that some allegations were without foundation, no action was taken against those who first made the allegation.

Grievances on ‘a very serious issue’ were made against a union member and investigated but withdrawn after three months, said Mr Dawson. He explained that the member felt he had to lodge a grievance against the same employees to find out why the grievance was taken in the first place. This was rejected by human resources and is now with the Ombudsman.

“GMB has always attempted to resolve issues informally prior to advising our members to go formal if required, however CMT and Senior Officers within HR have allowed grievances to be lodged against GMB members without the proper processes being followed,” said Mr Dawson.

“A bigger issue within the organisation is the use of outside investigators including outside facilities at the cost to the rate payer. Why is there a need to employ outside resources if the expertise exists within the organisation?

“The staff within HR provide an excellence service, however senior officers within HR must provide leadership and expertise yet to date some decisions are highly questionable and the Director of Corporate Services should provide answers to these questions.

“The most recent high profile case in the press is now a cause of concern in relation to costs to the ratepayer, however the question must be posed how did it ever reach this situation considering from the outset an informal process could have and should have been used.

“Irrespective of the outcome there is the emotional and stressful effect it had on all parties concerned including their immediate families.

“GMB is considering referring a number of these issues to the Ombudsman for consideration. CBC will simply put some form of embargo on grievances hoping that RPA resolve all outstanding issues within CBC.

“GMB went to elected members last year “In Committee” to advise them of all outstanding issues within the organisation, GMB withdrew from the Chamber because elected members were not prepared to listen,” claimed Mr Dawson.

A spokesperson for Craigavon Council said: “Craigavon Borough Council is unable to comment on individual grievances as the grievance process is confidential. Council welcomes and shares GMB’s commitment to simplifying grievance procedures and the Council looks forward to engaging with all stakeholders with a view to resolving employment issues at an early stage in an informal manner where possible.

“Council wrote to all employees in December informing them of senior management’s intention to review all outstanding grievances early in 2013.

“Council agrees that in almost all instances, issues between staff are best resolved informally while recognising employees’ right to have grievances dealt with according to formal procedures.”