Sunday 17 December 2017

Melanie faces year-long wait for case against her dismissal

Dispute: Melanie Verwoerd
Dispute: Melanie Verwoerd

Anne-Marie Walsh and Ken Sweeney

The bitter row between UNICEF and its former executive director Melanie Verwoerd may not be resolved for more than a year.

There is a waiting list of more than 50 weeks for a hearing at the state agency that is expected to hear an unfair dismissal claim taken by Ms Verwoerd.

She has said she will "reluctantly" take a case against the UN children's aid agency at the Employment Appeals Tribunal after she lost her job more than two weeks ago.

She claims she was dismissed because of her relationship with the late RTE broadcaster Gerry Ryan -- but the charity denies this.

It claims it ended her contract because she refused to accept the board's view that her connection with the broadcaster was a "negative issue" for the success of its mission.


In a statement at the weekend, it claimed she would not accept its request for her to develop a plan to refocus media attention on the charity.

The charity said it would defend its decision if she brought a case to the tribunal.

It has also emerged that Gerry Ryan was a familiar face at UNICEF offices.

A former UNICEF worker revealed to the Irish Independent that he would sometimes pop into the offices on Lower Ormond Quay in Dublin to meet Ms Verwoerd.

"He knew all our names and was very supportive when we needed him. From the staff's point of view we appreciated everything he did," said the worker.

The RTE personality would often donate his services free of charge, on one occasion acting as MC for a fundraiser event following a film premiere.

"It was the Irish premiere of the 'Sex And The City' movie," said the source. "We knew Gerry was very hurt when word got back to him that the board of UNICEF didn't want him turning up at our events. It seemed unfair as he had given us so much support.

"I felt the board looked down their noses at Gerry because of his 'shock jock' radio persona, and they felt his profile was inappropriate for UNICEF."

Meanwhile, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation said yesterday that there was a waiting list of over 50 weeks for a hearing because of a backlog at the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

If the tribunal upholds Ms Verwoerd's claim, it could order the charity to reinstate her in her job and also award her compensation worth up to two years' pay. It is also possible that the tribunal may not exist by the time the case comes up.

It is likely to be replaced by a new one-stop-shop for employment disputes under new plans recently announced by Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton.

Despite the case backlog, the tribunal will be closed for most of this month.

It takes a summer recess from today until August 19.

Irish Independent

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