Library worker suspended by Wigan Council for online comment
Wigan Council has suspended an employee amid allegations about comments made on social media.
Maureen O’Bern, a customer service assistant at Leigh Library, is facing a disciplinary hearing and an allegation of gross misconduct.
She says she was told she was being suspended after she criticised the involvement of Chinese state-owned firm BCEGI in the redevelopment of The Galleries in Wigan town centre.
The council confirmed a disciplinary process was under way and said it was unable to speak further about the matter.
Ms O’Bern, who has worked at the library for more than 30 years and lives in Scholes, said she had put a number of comments on Facebook over a period of several months about the council’s attitude towards human rights in the wake of bringing BCEGI on board for the massive Galleries project.
She also said she raised the matter at a listening exercise for local authority staff involving council leader Coun David Molyneux and chief executive Alison McKenzie-Folan.
She then said that around a week later she was told she was being suspended due to a complaint being made about negative comments related to the council on social media.
Ms O’Bern said she was aware her contract did not allow her to criticise the council online but felt strongly enough over the issue to deal with the consequences.
She said: “We should be looking to be ethical, not doing deals with countries that are abusing their own people.
“The Chinese regime has an awful record on human rights especially in their present treatment of the Uighur people and the citizens of Hong Kong.
“The council says it stands in solidarity with oppressed people but then does a deal with a regime that disrespects human rights.
“I find it hypocritical.
“The council has spoken about the benefits to the town of the deal with BCEGI, of bringing in apprenticeships and money, but haven’t really mentioned human rights.
“I don’t want to come across as someone just criticising the council.
“I love my job and love serving the people and working in the library, but I feel very strongly about this.
“I am concerned that the Chinese Communist Party are being allowed to invest so much in our country and definitely do not want them having a financial stake in my own town. A lot of people don’t want that in Wigan.”
Leigh MP James Grundy has spoken out about Ms O’Bern situation, calling her suspension “highly concerning” in a letter to Ms McKenzie-Folan.
Mr Grundy wrote: “My opinion is that the view expressed by Maureen is not controversial, and would be held by many, if not the majority of my constituents.”
He also called on the town hall to lift the suspension to avoid setting a precedent of employees being punished for their views on matters of public interest.
Wigan Council has previously answered criticism of BCEGI’s involvement in partnership with Cityheart by saying the firm is based in the UK and was selected on the quality of its proposals, which included employing local people and spending in the local supply chain.
Referring to Ms O’Bern’s suspension, a town hall spokesperson said: ““We can confirm that a member of staff has been suspended pending further investigation into alleged gross misconduct.
“We are unable to comment further at this stage.”
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