Salford seeks mediation

July 28, 2006

Poor report leads Salford to shake up grievance policy, writes Phil Baty

Salford University is pioneering a "mediation" service after an internal report found that staff have little faith in the fairness of grievance procedures and believe that their managers close ranks to protect each other from misconduct claims.

Under a new eight-point equality and diversity strategy launched this month, Salford said that it had begun a "specific initiative" to learn from past grievance cases so that the "negative side-effects" could be minimised.

Peter Barrett, pro vice-chancellor, told staff this week that part of the initiative was a new mediation facility, which is designed to help the university deal with issues earlier and less formally.

To begin with, the service will be for ethnic minority staff only, but it is hoped it will be broadened to cover all grievance cases.

The announcement of what is believed to be a unique initiative comes nine months after The Times Higher reported the results of a survey of almost 1,000 staff and students at Salford on equality issues.

The report, from consultants The Gus John Partnership, called on Salford to take "urgent steps" to ensure management consistency in dealing with cases of misconduct to restore trust among the university's ethnic minority staff.

It revealed a widely held view that there was a policy at executive level to "protect managers come what may" and that this was "impacting on staff morale and engendering distrust".

The report, which listed 26 areas for improvement against 12 areas of strength, found "general perceptions of a culture of bullying among managers and the lack of a positive approach to whistleblowing".

Disabled and ethnic minority staff reported a "keep your head down" approach. The report said that there was a suggestion the executive team had been "complicit" in acts of discrimination and in "protecting managers who have discriminated".

Bill Gulam, a member of the Black Staff Network and an equality activist for the University and College Union, said his group had requested the mediation service after dealing with "three or four" cases that had gone all the way to an employment tribunal.

"It is really an opportunity for a reflective pause to allow people to step back from the line drawn in the sand, during disputes that are often extremely sensitive," he said. "It is entirely voluntary and does not take away anyone's legal rights."

In his announcement to staff this week, Professor Barrett, who chairs Salford's equality committee, said that an impact assessment of recruitment and selection of staff would also be carried out to reveal good practice and address problems.

He added that areas of concern included the university's "very low" proportion of disabled staff. It also has a low proportion of female professors.

phil.baty@thes.co.uk

A SCHEME TO RESTORE STAFF FAITH

  • Mediation is available initially to ethnic minority staff only
  • The policy is designed to sit within existing grievance procedures and does not in any way prevent a member of staff taking out a grievance
  • Staff who take out a grievance can, with the agreement of the other side, seek resolution through mediation at any time
  • There will be two mediators: a trained member of the Black Staff Network and a trained Link Personnel Manager
  • If successful, the scheme will be extended to cover other relevant areas of employment
  • Special mediation training for the personnel specialists in each of the university's departments, the personnel link managers and a team of volunteers from the Black Staff Network starts in September.

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