The NASUWT teachers’ union made a “genuine error” in failing to call an election before its general secretary’s term of office came to an end, the certification officer of trade unions has ruled.
In a ruling issued following a hearing earlier this month, Sarah Bedwell said the union’s current election process was “sufficient to remedy” the breach of union law, and that it would “not be appropriate, or proportionate” for her to issue an enforcement order removing Keates from her post.
This is because NASUWT already admitted it broke the law by allowing Chris Keates to continue to serve as general secretary beyond June 3 of this year, and because it was “clear” to Bedwill that Keates is now serving as the union’s acting general secretary pending the election of her successor.
The hearing took place on October 9 following a complaint by Susan Parlour, the union’s former Northern Ireland president and a former executive member, that union law was breached when Keates continued in her post beyond June 3, the anniversary of her election in 2014.
Union law states that union general secretaries must seek re-election every five years.
During the hearing, treasurer Russ Walters accepted the union had breached the law, but said it did so by mistake.
Richard Harris, acting on behalf of Parlour, claimed Keates’s appointment on an acting basis was a “sham”, pointing to correspondence that continued to refer to Keates as general secretary.
But in her ruling, Bedwill said she had seen “no evidence to suggest that this was a sham”.
“The evidence from Mr Walters was clear and convincing that this was an honest and genuine mistake and any continuing references to Ms Keates as general secretary arise only from the fact that, having served as general secretary for 15 years, her colleagues are used to referring to her as the general secretary.
“I found him to be a credible witness and have no reason to doubt his evidence. Having satisfied myself that Ms Keates has stood down from the general secretary role, my powers, as to enforcement, are limited.”
Bedwill also found there was “no evidence” the union deliberately misinterpreted the law or intended not to comply with it.
However, she said it was “regrettable that the union laboured under this misunderstanding for so long”.
“The issue could have been more speedily resolved had they checked the position or sought legal advice earlier. That is easy to say in hindsight, however, and I have no reason to doubt Mr Walters’ candour on this point.
“Consequently, I have no evidence which leads me to doubt that, as the election is already underway, the union will complete that electoral process and appoint a new general secretary.”`