A bid to have two elected officials of the NASUWT teaching union removed from office has failed after it was ruled that they were eligible to hold their posts despite not being active teachers.
Sarah Havlin, the certification officer for Northern Ireland, has thrown out a complaint from former NASUWT Northern Ireland president Susan Parlour.
The test is the existence of an employment contract held by a qualified teacher who holds that contract because they are a qualified teacher
Parlour alleged that Dave Kitchen and Russ Walters were not eligible to hold elected office in the union because they did not qualify for full membership.
The union’s rules state that only those “employed as qualified teachers” and those with contracts of employment requiring them “to teach, lecture or instruct whether on a full or part-time basis” are allowed to be full members and hold offices such as the presidency.
Parlour claimed Kitchen and Walters, currently the union’s national president and treasurer, were not eligible because they were not “actively” working as teachers.
Some trade union officials are allotted paid “facility time” by their employers. It means they are allowed to spend a certain proportion of their working hours on union business.
At a hearing in October, Havlin heard that both Kitchen and Walters were granted 100 per cent facility time, but still held contracts as qualified teachers.
Although Havlin accepted the two men did not teach, she ruled that the fact they still held contracts was enough to meet the union’s rules.
“In my assessment, evidence of actively teaching is irrelevant if a person can establish that they are employed as a qualified teacher,” she said.
“The test is not the action of teaching; the test is the existence of an employment contract held by a qualified teacher who holds that contract because they are a qualified teacher.”
Havlin also ruled that Dan McCarthy, Kitchen’s predecessor, had met the eligibility requirements set out in the rules at the time of his election, even though he had subsequently retired from teaching. McCarthy stood down as NASUWT president earlier this year, citing ill health.
In her ruling, the certification officer said she could not accept Parlour’s argument “that her preferred approach to interpretation of [the rule] is implicit within the rule as it is presently constructed”.
“It is my assessment that the approach of the union to accepting evidence of the existence of a current and qualifying contract is a reasonable and adequate interpretation of [the rule].”
“I do not uphold any part of the complaint and I make no declaration or order,” she added.
It is the second time this year that a certification officer has ruled in NASUWT’s favour in response to a complaint from Parlour.
In October, Sarah Bedwell, the certification officer in the UK, opted not to issue an enforcement order removing Chris Keates from office, ruling that the union made a “genuine error” in allowing her to overstay her term of office as general secretary. She remains in place as acting general secretary.
The union admitted to breaking the law by allowing Keates to continue to serve beyond June 3 of this year, the anniversary of her election five years before, but Parlour said argued an enforcement order was still to remove her from her interim position.
It follows a bitter political battle between NASUWT’s current leadership and other senior union staff and members that has led to lengthy suspensions and official complaints.
Parlour herself was barred from holding elected office in the union earlier this year, amid accusations that she was “aggressive” when she asked about staff suspensions, that she behaved “inappropriately” and acted in a way that was “prejudicial to the interests of the union”.
The process of electing Keates’s replacement as general secretary is ongoing. Schools Week revealed in late October that a member of the union’s executive, Paul Nesbitt, had mounted a challenge against the union’s preferred candidate, current deputy general secretary Dr Patrick Roach.