‘It is a matter that the NI executive needs to address in terms of accountability – Kieran Bannon.
THREE hundred so-called gagging orders have been used to silence public-sector workers – the majority former police officers – since 2009. The orders can be used to prevent staff speaking publicly to the press about their former employer.
Also known as confidentiality clauses, they are usally agreed when an employee is made redundent or leaves an employer following a workplace issue or disagreement. More than 230 police officers and 50 staff members at the Stormont executive agreed to confidentiality clauses. The clauses can be used in settlement agreements to stop industrial tribunal cases being heard and can cost the taxpayer tens of thousands of pounds. In March the British government banned gagging orders for NHS employees after it emerged that more than £18 million had been spent on silencing 600 staff. The issue has caused uproar at Westminster, with communities secretary Eric Pickles warning against using “under-the-counter pay-offs to silence departing staff”.
Civil service union Nipsa expressed concerns over public funds being used “simply to silence individuals”. Kieran Bannon, assistant general secretary of Nipsa, said that confidentiality clauses can “undermine the principles of accountability and propriety”. “It is a matter that the NI executive needs to address in terms of accountability, firstly in relation to the use of public funds but equally the accountability of public-sector employers for their actions,” he said. A total of 236 PSNI officers agreed to confidentiality clauses as part of employment tribunal settlements. Almost 200 of these were part of a class action settled earlier this year, according to a freedom of information request submitted by The Irish News. The Department for Social Development (DSD) accounted for the vast majority of the confidentiality clauses used in the executive, with 39 imposed since 2009.
Five staff members in the Department of Agriclture and Rural Development agreed to confidentiality clauses as part of compromise agreements. The Department of Health also used confidentiality clauses in two out-of-court settlements relating to industrial tribunal cases. Other public bodies also revealed some employees agreed to gagging orders over the past four years. Eight assembly staff members agreed to confidentiality clauses. None of the cases prevented employees from whistleblowing. A total of 16 Western Health and Social Care Trust employees and one ambulance service staff member agreed to confidentiality clauses since 2009. One Belfast trust employee agreed to a confidentiality clause as part of the termination arrangement. The trust said the clause was mutually agreed and phrased to “protect both the employer and employee”, with no specific clauses in relation to the press. According to employment lewyers, most compromise agreements include confidentiality clauses. They can be used to bar employees from talking publicly or to the press about their former employer of the circumstances under which they left. Mr Bannon said confidentiality clauses usually form part of compromise agreements and are used in tribunal settlements to stop cases being heard. “Nipsa would have concern if public funds were used simply to silence individuals,” he said. “The use of confidentiality clauses means the general workforce and the public are not aware of the actions of the employer and in a case involving public-sector staff it is even more important that the employer is held to account for its actions given the potential impact on public funds.” No figures were available to determine how much was spent in the north’s staff settlements that used confidentiality clauses. A DSD spokesman said : “We are not in a position to make an informed comment how this department’s figures compare to others. DSD is, however, the largest of the Northern Ireland Civil Service departments.”
With many thanks to : Brendan Hughes, Irish News.
- Nhs Gagging Orders for Staff Banned by Health Secretary! (shootthescribe.wordpress.com)
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- Hospitals spend £2m on gagging orders preventing staff speaking out (independent.co.uk)
- Endemic Gagging: Over 300 UK Police Silenced With Taxpayer Millions – Report (aquariusparadigm.com)
- BBC spent £28m on staff gagging orders (standard.co.uk)