Irish News

Friday 25 July 2014

New state training body Solas rocked by worker unrest

Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor

Published 07/04/2014|02:30

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NEW State training authority Solas has been rocked by staff unrest in one of its offices, the Irish Independent has learnt.

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More than 40 staff at its training centre in Raheen, Limerick, held a meeting to discuss unhappiness with working conditions at the centre in recent months.

The agency has only been in existence since late last year, after taking over from the troubled FAS service.

Sources said that following the meeting of staff at Solas, the authority was later served with protective notice of possible industrial action.

A further meeting is expected to take place this week.

It is the second staff-related controversy involving the authority recently. In February, the chairman of the Dail's Public Accounts Committee (PAC), John McGuinness, said a whistleblower within the organisation was being victimised.

He said Una Halliday – a Co Louth-based training coordinator who exposed questionable training practices at FAS five years ago – was no longer being given work duties, a telephone or the use of a PC in her office. His comments have not been challenged by Solas.

The new controversy in Limerick arose in early March when two anonymous letters were circulated. These alleged certain staff members had suffered harassment and bullying in the workplace.

It is unclear if there is any substance to the allegations.

But the issue gained a head of steam when management at the centre convened a general meeting of staff where the letter was circulated and they were asked for their observations.

A source said: "This caused a lot of upset, as it suggested they were all suspects until the culprit was found".

A separate meeting of staff involving representatives from their trade union, SIPTU, was later convened on March 30 where a list of grievances was compiled. This letter was sent to senior management at Solas's headquarters in Dublin.

Solas was later notified that the union planned to ballot staff for industrial action.

The letters which sparked the Limerick row were also circulated to TDs and the PAC.

In relation to the row, a Solas spokesman said: "As a general rule we do not comment on individual HR matters."

He said staff relations issues are dealt with through procedures such as the Haddington Road Agreement and, where necessary, Labour Relations support mechanisms.

In a letter to the PAC following Mr McGuinness's comments in relation to Ms Halliday, Solas CEO Paul O'Toole said bullying complaints made by her were now being investigated.

An external investigator was appointed to conduct the probe.

Ms Halliday previously exposed the falsification of test results by some tutors in 2009. Her actions prompted a nationwide review of courses, which found further irregularities.

COMPLAINT

It is the second occasion on which Ms Halliday has made a formal complaint against colleagues.

On the first occasion she alleged she was victimised for blowing the whistle about the falsification of results and, following a lengthy investigation, received a settlement of just under €100,000.

But subsequent to that settlement being made, Ms Halliday has found herself in conflict with Solas management, which accused her of breaching a confidentiality clause attached to the settlement agreement.

Irish Independent

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