Sunday, 18 September 2016

#UNISONGATE - It may not be unlawful but is it ethical?

A number of members have asked about why the Certification Officer (CO) has already ruled out three complaints raised by Roger Bannister (RB).

Before reading this post, if you are unfamiliar with #UNISONGATE scroll down this post to the background which provides links details of #UNISONGATE

I am not a lawyer I am a lay rep in Barnet UNISON.

I have to deal with members issues every day and unfortunately I am in branch (Barnet UNISON) where the employer has been preparing and planning and delivering mass outsourcing for the past 8 years.

Almost all the representation and negotiation I have done individually or with a team has not needed a lawyer. The law very rarely delivers justice. It is organising and mobilising workers that aids negotiation not legal threats.

It is true that there are at times some decisions that do bring a benefits for workers in Barnet we won a over £1 million for our members.

So, why did the CO rule out three of the complaints?

All three of the complaints concerned the audio recording of a UNISON meeting of paid officials on 21 October 2015 held in TUC Congress House.

You can listen to the recording here

Here are couple of extracts of the recording.

“We have done very well and I want to thank everybody and congratulate them on getting the nominations that they have got. This is a list of the Greater London branch nominations for Dave Prentis the deadline closed last Friday, I do not have a list of the other candidates, and that will appear in due course but I haven’t got it. But we have done very well, we’ve got almost 50 nominations here so that is excellent and thanks very much, er Dave is very very pleased and he has related that to me personally er it is very important because obviously this is going to be a hard fought election.”

“you clearly cannot be caught out saying vote for Dave but we do expect you to talk to branches, the nominating ones certainly about that.” 
(UNISON London Regional Secretary to UNISON London Region paid officials on 21 October 2015). 
Now you have heard the recordings, what do you think?

I looked at what Roger had to say and I have to say I support all three of his complaints. As I said I am not a lawyer, but look on page 6 paragraph12, what he is saying makes sense to me a lay member.

“By using the resources of the union contrary to the Election Procedures UNISON officers interfered in the election in a manner deliberately intended to undermine the concept of a member-led union.”

“Unconstitutional interference in an election process, in breach of the Election Procedures directly threatens the object of this particular Rule.”
“This rule gets to the heart of UNISON’s raison d’etre, if fair balloting is so important as to justify a reference in those Rules relating to the Aims and Objectives of the union, then breaches of them as important as these cannot be lightly ignored, and the election should be re-run.”

Go back and listen to the audio tape again. I am in no doubt that there is something seriously wrong.

The CO explains that for the complaints to have a chance of success they must be a clear and direct link to section 108A(2) of the 1992 Act which states:

108A Right to apply to Certification Officer
(1) A person who claims that there has been a breach or threatened breach of
the rules of a trade union relating to any of the matters mentioned in subsection (2)
may apply to the Certification Officer for a declaration to that effect, subject to
subsections (3) to (7).

(2) The matters are –

(a) the appointment or election of a person to, or the removal of a person from,
any office;

(b) disciplinary proceedings by the union (including expulsion);

(c) the balloting of members on any issue other than industrial action;

(d) the constitution or proceedings of any executive committee or of any

decision-making meeting;

(e) such other matters as may be specified in an order made by the Secretary of
I have highlighted the relevant parts of section 108(2) which I believe are relevant.

However, the CO felt he did not have the power to decide if UNISON had breached B2.2, B2.4 and B4.6 of its rules.


My question here for UNISON members and reps is.

Does it matter if it is lawful, is there a wider and much more fundamental question of ethics and transparency at stake here ?

Listening to the tape again and also having read the Team Dave emails (click on these links and to find out about Team Dave emails) I am very concerned about what appears a very disturbing culture between paid officials and UNISON branches and reps.

It is almost 10 months since #UNISONGATE became public and there has been no announcement of any investigation and no condemnation of the language heard on the tape or in the Team Dave emails.

There are some in UNISON who think all this is history and they want it all to go away.
Indeed some UNISON senior lay reps took a very aggressive reaction when #UNISONGATE first broke. But more about that another time.

When I listen to what the grassroots female workers have to complain about I recognise a pattern.

I read something similar a few years ago here about low paid workers

Or when I read in Private Eye in February 2016 this extract from Team Dave emails

“One striking “Team Dave” note says: “it may be in some circumstance you may be able to ‘circumvent’ hostile branches by working with sympathetic employer contacts. I acknowledge that some colleagues may feel this is ethically inappropriate but it doesn’t breach campaign rules; it will have to be done with caution.”

I was later sent three documents containing Team Dave emails and can confirm the above quote in Private Eye is accurate. 

I know there are lots of examples of this worrying culture, not just in my union but others just like there are in many organisations.

It would be easy, to say, I have done my time, I have had enough.

Believe me, I have been very close to quitting, but then I think, why should I leave the union, why should I give up representing members?

I can’t be a spectator when I see injustice, others may do so, to survive, that is a coping strategy, but I can’t.

So I am not quitting and I am proud to be standing with our “first eleven”

I also fully support what Roger was trying to do, by bringing to light something that happened which does not belong in our union.

You might always win the legal battles, but this fight is for the heart and soul of our union and I for one will not step away now.

6 October 2016.


Thursday, 15 September 2016

Yes I agree with Dave Prentis – End Term Time pay in schools

“UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis left the TUC conference in Brighton to join the teaching assistants on Parliament Square.
He told them that all of UNISON’s 1.3 million members were behind them and said “these cuts are happening because of the cruel squeeze on finances from Westminster, as the government continues its austerity fuelled war on public services.”
He also said that how they have been treated by their council is a disgrace.”
The above report was addressed to the striking Derby Teaching assistants who came down to the House of Commons to highlight the brutal impact of the 25% pay cut by their employer Derby City Council.

In Durham Teaching Assistants are facing a 23% pay cut and whilst they are currently being balloted on an offer, the grassroots feedback is that it will be rejected.

The two disputes Derby & Durham have raised the profile of a wider campaign that has been waiting to be launched for almost a decade.

Any union rep that has represented school staff is all too well aware of the dedication hard work and unpaid hours that our members deliver to provide high quality education for children. In particular our members have played a critical role in delivering the inclusion agenda in schools which is something we should all be proud of.

The imposition of Term Time Pay (TTP) is something every union branch that has members working in schools is aware of and until now perhaps wondered how the union movement was going to mobilise against policy that openly discriminates against low paid female workers.

For those unfamiliar with TTP, it is not applicable to Teachers. Teachers are covered by a national agreement and whilst they do work term time they are paid a full time employees.

However, in the case of the rest of staff working in schools they are not treated a full time employees hence TTP.

The Durham & Derby disputes expose the fact that there were in the past staff working in schools (not teachers) who were treated as full time employees and paid like teachers. Unfortunately over the last decade this employment (known as 52 weeks) has been stopped across a number of local authorities. In some places they have held on, but eventually it has been imposed.

In Derby and Durham the workforce are clearly not prepared to lose 25% without a fight.

I am originally from the Easington Colliery and took an interest when I heard about the 23% pay cut because I was negotiating something similar here in Tory Barnet. I have had to come up with a negotiating strategy with my local reps to address the change to TTP, so I know it is difficult but they are options. However, even though we have managed to avoid the big 23/25% cuts we still have to come up with a plan to deal with a 3.4%  cut in April 2018. Whilst that is a long way a way, we are already formulating plan with our members.

But to me this is just tinkering and avoid the “elephant in the room” and provoked in me this question. What can we do for Derby and Durham Workers?

First we can all send messages of support and donations to help them both. I can tell you that it does help morale when you are given messages of support from other workers.

We can support their online campaigns on Face Book and Twitter

No comparison with other council workers.

These are all good solidarity actions but in my view there is only one way we are going to end this discriminatory and punitive policy and that is by coordinating a national dispute.

We have all the facts now.

We know it penalises and devalues female workers and it is discriminatory.

As a union that opposes all forms of discrimination this is a fight we must launch and launch now.

Our campaign should be that all staff working in a school should be treated equally with teachers as full time employees, if that means their terms and conditions are negotiated with the teachers then so be it.

Positive action to end this discrimination can no longer be delayed.

In my view we can’t leave branches and members to fight isolated, we need to step up and take on this challenge on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of low paid female workers who make up the bulk of our membership.

“Submit the claim, give notice and then prepare to ballot”.

I guarantee a ballot on all school staff to be treated as full time employees will generate a high turnout, possibly increase membership and union activity in schools.

In June this year at UNISON conference I read this headline with interest

“UNISON is to campaign for school workers across the UK to be employed during every week of the year, local government delegates in Brighton declared this afternoon.”

At last I thought we are going to mobilise our campaign for our members in schools.

In July at the Durham Miners Gala Jeremy Corbyn gave an electrifying speech and took the opportunity in his speech to issue a message of solidarity for the Durham Teaching Assistants. “Get it sorted!” listen here

But it got better.

In August this year Jeremy issued a much more substantial message
“The government must fund teaching assistants every week of the year”

So now we have Jeremy Corbyn publicly stating that he backs UNISON campaign to end imposition of Term Time Pay and UNISON conference pledging to campaign to end Term Time Pay.

So yes, I agree with Dave when he said to the Derby TAs all of UNISON’s 1.3 million members were behind them” so in my book that sounds like the start of a plan and I for one want to do everything I can to support all school support staff and be part of a joint union team that issues a claim to end Term Time Pay and calls all of our branches to mobilise our members for action.

As a warm up to the wider campaign I am asking if you could sign this petition and then share it widely.

Let’s start agitating and organising I am sick of hearing about discrimination of female workers lets work to end it. Time for talking is over the Time for action is now.



Sunday, 11 September 2016

UNISONGATE, Mental Health and Labour Party

I have received some negative feedback at the recent post I released about the upcoming UNISONGATE hearing


It seems that some within our union and others across the labour movement don’t think I and my fellow complainants should air the concerns we have in public, one even went as far to say “only despicable cowards that challenge democratically elected leaders.” 

Others have made it clear that by going to the Certification Officer about the serious issues raised during the UNISON General Secretary election I and my fellow complainants are betraying the trade union movement.

I have to say that whilst I respect their right to that view it is something I cannot do. Not just because it goes against everything that I have been fighting for but that ultimately staying silent and acting like a spectator is for me a betrayal of the trust our members place in their union. They want to believe their reps are true to their beliefs and are prepared to speak out to uphold democracy and transparency even if this makes life difficult, as an inspirational grassroots UNISON reps keeps saying to me “we have got to be better than the Tories, otherwise what are we doing!”

As we approach the end of the Labour leadership election which I hope Jeremy wins I have been reflecting on labour movement organisations which includes trade unions. For many the behaviour of some Labour MPs has shocked many and for the rest merely confirmed just how out of touch they are with ordinary members within their communities.

In my view the orchestrated vile bullying of Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters has at times been tantamount to end what little democracy we have in this country. It is shame the TUC have not organised with the trade union leaders a strong rebuttal and condemnation of these attacks and issued their support for Jeremy. After all, it took his election last year to finally bring anti austerity policies into the mainstream media.

As a long time trade union member and "tireless" campaigner I have never been afraid to learn from others and to acknowledge mistakes. As a lay rep, I am accountable to the members, if they want someone else they can vote me out. It's happened before in my branch and it can always happen again.

What I see with some MPs and some union officials who appear to act in a way that is opposite to the people they are supposed to support is a lack of accountability which in itself can, but not always, lead to what at best can lead to complacency and at worst lead to a perceived betrayal of the rank and file membership.

But this story of betrayals isn't new, it is unfortunately part of the history of the labour movement and there are many others more knowledgeable who could cite many examples.

For me as an organiser I continue to ask myself what I can do to be more effective.

How can I organise better?

How can I avoid the bureaucratic & ideological barriers to representing and defending workers?

I'm still learning but the last 12 months has taken its toll on my mental health.

But as I tried to explain to my counsellor only the other day, there is something inside of me that only allows me to rest for a minute, even now as I sit on the number 329 bus writing this post, I know I have broken another rule to avoid stress build up.

In the past 12 months I have seen the good and bad as a union rep and labour party member.

I made a decision a while ago, that whilst I will always fight for democracy and transparency within my workplace my union and my party.

I will not be pressured or bullied into silence. In the last 12 months I have seen and experienced issues that I have been fighting passionately opposed in the workforce.

I am 100% clear that I will apply those same values in my union and the Labour Party and if for that I am purged then I do so with a clear conscience.

Today I just found out that the Certification Officer has already made a decision on some of the UNISONGATE complaints online here.

I want to publicly express solidarity to the UNISON member who has taken the decision to speak out over this matter. He still has other complaints as do I and my fellow complainants.


Thursday, 8 September 2016

Update from UNISON Homerton Hospital members:ISS news

In mid-July, ISS (the company which runs services like catering, cleaning and security at Homerton Hospital) announced a reorganisation of these services.  The initial briefing stated that up to 89 staff could be made redundant.  While management stated that this was a worst case scenario, one suggestion they made as to how to reduce this number was for full time employees could consider “a cut in hours by up to 10 hours per week”.  And this would only reduce the overall number by “more than half”!

Staff were understandably furious.  They were TUPEd to this company last October and had been reassured that their terms and conditions would not change.  From the outset members wanted to take action. 

As well as a formal response to the consultation, UNISON led a campaign which highlighted the risks to patient care if cleaning, patient feeding (distribution of food to patients) and security hours were cut.  This included raising the issues with the Homerton Hospital management as well as taking our concerns to the public in a number of ways including a petition, writing to our MPs, taking this to the local press and Healthwatch Hackney.  We also held two very good protests outside the hospital which were well supported by UNISON members in ISS as well as other hospital staff, other local trade unions and community groups such as keep our NHS public.   

The consultation is not yet finished and the results so far are mixed.  There have been some positives.  There are no changes to hours in patient feeding and no redundancies in this section.  There are no compulsory redundancies in healthcare cleaning (2 people have taken voluntary redundancy).  Overall there has not been a reduction in the number of cleaning hours and this is good news.  Changes for weekday cleaners largely involves changes in where they work in the hospital. 

However, it is not all good news.  Weekend staff have been affected and 14 people have had their hours reduced from 18 hours per weekend to 14 hours.   This is a significant loss of pay for these people.  

But the biggest area of concern is “retail”. ISS plan to reduce the hours in the canteen used by staff and visitors.  There will be no canteen at weekends and it will be closed from 2.30pm during the week.  The 'alternative' they are offering is extended opening hours in the coffee shop which they state will serve some hot food.   They are making 8 people redundant in this section.

We don’t think this is good enough.  Under the previous company, our canteen used to be so busy at lunchtimes they had to have a security guard on the door to stop visitors using it at busy times!  But since ISS took over, the numbers have fallen.  Hospital staff report that the food is more expensive with less choice and less fresh options.  The answer to falling numbers is not to sack workers but to make the canteen a place that hospital staff want to use.  In a 7-day hospital, staff and visitors need a 7-day service! 

We continue to fight this, not only to save the jobs of those who work there but to protect the service that health workers need in order that they can in turn provide good care for patients.

Thanks to everyone who has sent solidarity messages of support including those

from Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott.

BREAKING NEWS #UNISONGATE hearing dates agreed

11 Unison members’ complaints about UNISON General Secretary Elections 2015 hearing dates have been confirmed.

The following UNISON members have submitted a number of joint complaints to the Certification Officer

1.    John Burgess
2.    Adam Tipple
3.    Phil O Reilly
4.    Patrick  Hunter
5.    Claire Dixon
6.    Liz James
7.    Alan Wylie
8.    Hugh Jordan
9.    Maggi Myland
10. Helen Davies
11. John Harris

We have had confirmation that All Certification Office hearings are open to the public to attend.

There is a preliminary hearing followed by a case management discussion to take place on Thursday 6 October.

The preliminary hearing and subsequent case management discussion will instead take place at 10.00 AM on Thursday 6 October 2016 at the below venue:-

Melia White House
Albany Street
Regents Park
NW1 3UP     

Details of this venue, including how to get there, please see the following link:

The main hearing has been allocated and is due to take place on 3 and 4 November 2016

There are three other complainants who have also submitted their own complaints to the Certification Officer and these will be a part of the above meetings.

More news later…………

Background to the complaints:

To understand some of the issues please listen and read the information and links below which have been all online in the public domain for almost 10 months.

1. Whistleblowing tape – 21 October 2015
A damning audiotape emerged in early December 2015 provided evidence that senior officials of Britain’s biggest public service union, UNISON, had allegedly acted in blatant breach of the union’s own rules to secure the incumbent general secretary’s re-election.

The audio file can be downloaded online here:  

The audio recording repeatedly features the voice of UNISON’s London regional secretary, who can be heard repeatedly thanking paid union officials under her management for their work in securing branch nominations for the three-term incumbent UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis.

“We have done very well and I want to thank everybody and congratulate them on getting the nominations that they have got. This is a list of the Greater London branch nominations for Dave Prentis the deadline closed last Friday, I do not have a list of the other candidates, and that will appear in due course but I haven’t got it. But we have done very well, we’ve got almost 50 nominations here so that is excellent and thanks very much, er Dave is very very pleased and he has related that to me personally er it is very important because obviously this is going to be a hard fought election.”
(UNISON London Regional Secretary to UNISON London Region paid officials on 21 October 2015).  

The recording includes derogatory references to Mr Prentis’ three election opponents (Roger Bannister, John Burgess and Heather Wakefield) and their supporters along with a detailed discussion of what London regional officials can do to bolster the Prentis campaign in the days running up to the start of the postal ballot on 9 November. There is also an explicit warning not to get “caught out”, while mention of the union’s election rules provokes widespread laughter.

2. Team Dave campaign emails
The public were first made aware of the Team Dave campaign emails when an article appeared in Private Eye in early February.

You can read the Private Eye article here

Here are some extracts from the above Private Eye article

“Leaked emails reach the Eye providing more evidence that full-time staff of Unison mobilised to get general secretary Dave Prentis re-elected in December making the union’s claim to be a “member-led” look increasingly questionable.”


“The emails passed to the Eye from within the Prentis campaign indicate that Unison officials were in fact the backbone of “Team Dave”. The emails were sent by assistant general secretary Cliff Williams in October and November. The bulk of the recipients were other Unison officials – a rough count shows 45 of 50 addresses are regional secretaries, head office staff and other unison staff.”

 “One striking “Team Dave” note says: “it may be in some circumstance you may be able to ‘circumvent’ hostile branches by working with sympathetic employer contacts. I acknowledge that some colleagues may feel this is ethically inappropriate but it doesn’t breach campaign rules; it will have to be done with caution.”

It may not break campaign rules, but it still doesn’t look good. Similarly, having Unison officials lead the Prentis campaign doesn’t match the spirit of the union being “member led”.

The third extract above is in our view one of the most damming, especially for those grassroots reps and members who have been fighting employers who are either sacking, privatising or cutting the Terms and Conditions of our members. The idea that paid officials would go behind the backs of local branches is appalling and has no place in a trade union. To date there has been no condemnation of these remarks or any investigation.

The “Team Dave” emails are further evidence of a national campaign and provide a context to the content of the audio tape of the meeting in London on 21 October 2015. 

Read Three earlier Private Eye articles here
1.    Unison on tape
2.    A family affair
3.    A greasy poll


Sunday, 4 September 2016

Back at work - Living with depression

Some of you may have seen my post “Living with Depression” which I shared on Facebook after a long absence from work.

I am now at the end of my phased return to work. I am full time as from tomorrow, but I wanted to share some of feedback I have received most of it positive and one a bit sinister. 

My first worry was judging how much to say as I had been away for a long time. I have to admit I was worried about the stigma and the way people would treat me. By that I meant, would people lose confidence in me, would people avoid speaking to me because they aren’t sure I am mentally strong enough to help them. I also have a nagging feeling that I am not sure how right I am, if that means anything? In the end I decided I would just come out and say “I’ve had a breakdown”, and it hasn’t been too bad. I have had lots of positive feedback from members, wishing me well and several have divulged their own mental health problems and all of them have been surprised that I have been struggling with depression. But that is the problem with mental health, it is not something most of us feel comfortable, it’s invisible, which is why so many of us (me included) are able to cover it up.

I have been a worker in mental health services for more than 20 years and yet it does feel nothing much has changed, people are still struggling to feel confident to disclose to their families, friends and employer for fear of the consequences. There is so much more work that needs to be done to address stigma and mental health, which is why I wasn’t happy when Owen Smith at first denied he called Jeremy Corbyn a lunatic. My anger was because he tried to deny until the video appeared. In terms of my employment I want to be clear that my employer has been very supportive and as someone who has also represented workers with mental health problems I would expect every worker to be given the same level of support and understanding.

There is an irony that has not been lost on me. Before my breakdown I was negotiating a pay & grading proposals that has taken four years. One of the proposals was to drastically cut our local government sick pay scheme. The Council reflected on our arguments and dropped this proposal. If UNISON had not been organised in our Council, this proposal would have gone through and I would have been sacked. I know from experience with the private sector organisations I now have to deal with that someone in a similar circumstances would highly likely to be sacked. The rapid erosion of hard won Terms & Conditions is being accelerated by privatisation and is one of many reasons why our branch works so hard to oppose outsourcing.

As I revealed in my first post I am now taking medication along with counselling. For anyone who has worked with me in Mental Health services, taking medication was a major trauma for me. Now I am learning to live with the same side effects I have seen impacting on other mental health service users and of course my mother who has for the last seven years been living with Dementia such as teeth grinding, hot flushes, cramps, tiredness, yawning, biting my tongue. 

Work colleagues and members have all shared their own experiences of taking mental health medication. Only today I had a conversation with someone who very much needs help, but is so worried about side effects of medication. All I can say, it is different for everyone, and if you do have to take medication it is really important you take notes of any side effects and visit your GP. Having said all that I do want to come off the medication, but I am concerned about what will happen if I do could I face going through what has been hell again. That in itself causes me anxiety, to think that I am not sure if I am ok, is the medication working, have I got better and what happens if I come off it and relapse?

But I recognise I have been lucky in that I have been able to access counselling through my GP surgery. Many people I have spoken to since I went public have said they have not had this as an option, because of the lengthy waiting lists. I was lucky because my GP surgery had its own counsellors and so I have had free access to counselling.  I am very clear without this support I am not sure I would be at work now. But when I was working in mental health services, this option was hardly ever an option because of the length of the waiting lists. Hence why medication which should complement treatment was often the only treatment for people using mental health services.

And now…….

The brutal austerity attacks on all public services, but in particular Mental Health services are another reason why I am passionately supporting Jeremy Corbyn and his team. It is ridiculous to talk about supporting people with mental health issues to get them back into work if you don’t have free access to counselling to compliment other treatments.

I would to highlight one of Jeremy’s 10 Pledges is Secure Our NHS and Social Care

Which states:

“We will end health service privatisation and bring services into a secure, publicly-provided NHS. We will integrate the NHS and social care for older and disabled people, funding dignity across the board and ensure parity for mental health services.”

This sounds good to me.

Last week news broke about funding cuts coming to the NHS, today a story broke of surgery being rationed. In my view we can’t let this happen, we must stand up and fight for our NHS after all if they were able to create the NHS after the Second World War, then a country which is often touted as the fifth or sixth richest country in the world can surely invest and secure our wonderful NHS for future generations to come.

I don’t know how but I am trying to find the energy to do my bit to make sure Jeremy wins this Leadership election and then move on to win the general election.

Lastly but most importantly I can't write this post without mentioning news of a group of inspirational/heroic anti-austerity campaigners Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).

Today DPAC launched their #RightsNotGames week of activity which finishes on Saturday 10 September.

There is an online event on Wednesday 7 September at 9.30 pm details here

If you click on this link you will find out what you can do to help

In the Barnet UNISON office the fight for our members seems bigger than ever, so much change and so much work to do and so much energy needed to help everyone. I am absolutely 100% proud to belong to our branch and to have the honour to work with the office staff, branch officers, local reps all of whom are doing all that they can to support our members and defend public services.