Chairman of South West College’s governing body Nick O’Shiel is facing a call to resign from one of his roles after the University and College Union (UCU) accused him of making misleading promises of a pay rise to staff, characterised as “an act of extreme bad faith.”

Dr. O’Shiel (below) has rejected the criticism made by UCU.

The accusations stem from a series of emails, dated between May and December 2023, exchanged between Katharine Clarke, a representative of UCU, and Dr. O’Shiel, which have been shared with The Impartial Reporter. They relate to his role as Chairman of the College Employers’ Forum (CEF).

The emails highlight the strained relationship between the Union and college management.

In one email to Dr. O’Shiel, Ms Clarke writes: “You may wish to consider your position.”

She claimed he had “lost the trust and goodwill of the largest trade union in the further education sector and as such, your capacity to negotiate is severely diminished”.

In an email dated May 22, 2023, Ms Clarke claimed Dr. O’Shiel made an offer for a pay increase that he didn’t have official approval from the Department of Economy to make. She claimed the offer was a bid to avert further industrial action.

Ms Clarke said the SWC chairman had “intentionally duped UCU into rescinding perfectly lawful, legitimate industrial action” and added: “This is an act of extreme bad faith”.

“This is no way to conduct a negotiation. You, on behalf of your board, must surely know the calculations have not been undertaken”.

In response, Dr. O’Shiel claimed there was “absolute dismay and disappointment” from CEF members at the content of her letter, describing the tone as “inappropriately personal, inflammatory and unprofessional”.

“I utterly refute your claim that I, on behalf of the CEF, ‘intentionally duped UCU into rescinding perfectly lawful, legitimate industrial action. This is evidenced by any rudimentary analysis of the correspondence between the CEF and UCU.”

In a subsequent email dated June 21, 2023, Ms Clarke said it was unacceptable to offer “financial incentives for rescinding industrial action without securing agreement in principle from the Department for Economy”.

She said the absence of an apology and disrespect towards the Union has “caused immeasurable damage to industrial relations” as she outlined in her email dated June 21, 2023.

Speaking to The Impartial Reporter yesterday (Wednesday), Ms Clarke said: “The paper trail shows there has been a sustained breakdown in industrial relations under O’Shiel’s leadership”.

“He will never regain the trust and confidence of the lecturer trade unions. The question is, how long will the Department for the Economy, who appoint governing body chairs, allow this situation to continue without satisfactory resolution?”

In a statement, via Belfast public relations firm Brown O’Connor, a spokeswoman for the SWC chairman said: “Dr O’Shiel completely rejects any suggestion that he ever acted outside his remit or misled anyone as to the basis or value of any pay offer”.

She said that at all times Dr O’Shiel “acted in his capacity as Chair of CEF, on behalf of CEF and with CEF’s express authority”.

“All parties to the discussions (including the Unions) are aware that any pay offer is always subject to the submission and approval of a business case by both the Department for the Economy and the Department of Finance”.