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.


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