• Former Campaigns Officer took 10-and-a-half weeks off work
• Fellow trustees powerless to stop “abuse of power”
• Just 30% of campaigns budget spent
A Students’ Union trustee who was paid to campaign on student issues skipped work for over a month and still got paid, with the Students’ Union powerless to act.
Last year’s Campaigns Officer Amanda Walters took 10 and-a-half weeks off work between 2011 and 2012, far more than the 30-day allowance for members of the University of Manchester Students’ Union Executive.
Ms Walters claimed she was entitled to the extra holiday because she had worked so hard the previous year. But The Mancunion can reveal that a letter, sent by her colleagues at the Union, warned her not to take more time off. The document, written by her fellow trustees in March, accuses her of abusing her position and taking advantage of them.
“You have undeniably taken a significantly larger amount of time away from work than the rest of the executive … it feels very much like you have taken serious advantage of your situation,” the document reads.
The trustees admitted they were unable to stop her from skipping work and no disciplinary action was taken against her when she decided to travel abroad anyway.
Mo Saqib, who was Academic Affairs Officer at the time, told The Mancunion: “I didn’t believe going to her would achieve anything, and indeed it didn’t.”
“The entire [holiday] system was self-regulated. There was just a mutual trust that people wouldn’t take the piss.”
Ms Walters was in the second year of her role as Campaigns Officer, having been elected unopposed by 3,112 students in 2011.
The Students’ Union has no record of Exec holidays from last year because they were organised informally among each other.
Nick Pringle, General Secretary of the Students’ Union and a former co-worker of Amanda Walters, said: “I was made aware by my predecessor that she had concerns over another officer’s attendance at work which she dealt with.”
“We’ve now got formal employment contracts which stipulate our holiday entitlement and arrangements for taking time off and we’ve got processes in place to properly record absences for the first time.”
“If an elected official was to take ten weeks holiday then this would obviously be completely unacceptable.”
Despite the new contracts, it remains extremely difficult to punish or remove a member of the Exec if they dodge responsibilities or fail to turn up for work.
Khalil Secker, the current Campaigns Officer endorsed by Ms Walters, refused to criticise his predecessor. “As all this happened before my time I feel unable to comment. However, I can promise students that I won’t take more than my allotted leave.”
Ms Walters was responsible for campaigning for students’ rights and her £16,600 annual salary was paid for in part by tuition fees.
She was heavily involved in the student protests of 2010 and admitted to being inside the Tory HQ building when it was ransacked by protesters.
She told Sky News the following day that she “had no qualms about criminal damage” in the name of student protest.
Ms Walters told Sky News: “There’s a democratic deficit in this country when someone can be elected on a certain pledge, and then turn around and say they’re no longer going to keep that.”
But Amanda Walters spent only 30% of her campaigning budget. This included spending £1,845 for the Palestinian cause, but devoting just £30 to education.
The dispute over holiday centred on Time off in Lieu (TOIL), which allows for extra holiday to compensate an employee who works beyond paid hours.
It is thought Amanda Walters felt she had earned TOIL from her work in the previous year. But her colleagues claimed this was “unfair” and represented an “abuse of the position.”
They told Ms Walters there was an unwritten agreement that TOIL would only be taken within reason and members of the Executive would follow the general guidelines for staff, which required any TOIL to be taken near the time in which it was accumulated.
Amanda Walters ignored repeated requests for comment by The Mancunion.