Saturday, 10 December 2016

#Unisongate Burgess and Ors. v UNISON Complaint 3

Dear UNISON members and all trade union members. 

As the the date of the three day hearing approaches, people are asking: 

1. "What is #Unisongate and what are you complaining about? 

2. "Can members of the public attend the hearing?"

The hearing which is OPEN TO THE PUBLIC runs for three days starting:

Monday 19 December to Wednesday 21 December inclusive 

Venue: Fleetbank House, LONDON, EC4Y 8JX

Complaint 3

On or about 21 October 2015 to on or about 18 February 2016, UNISON breached section 49(6) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 in that it failed to ensure that the Scrutineer duly carried out his functions and that there was no interference with his carrying out of those functions which would make it reasonable for any person to call the Scrutineer's independence in relation to the union into question. This is evidenced by the following:-

1. The Scrutineer/ Electoral Reform Society did not independently investigate and respond to the complaints that were made to it in relation to the General Secretary 2015 Election in accordance with the terms of reference of the election timetable and procedure. Specifically with reference to the complaints arising from the disclosure of the audio tape of the meeting held on 21 October in the UNISON Greater London Regional Office.

2. The ERS issued guidance on 21 October that informed branches and nominating bodies they could now inform their members why they had chosen to make a particular nomination. This guidance was issued after an email from Team Dave, dated 15 October 2015, which informed UNISON branches that they could publish the fact of their nomination together with the reason why. Prior to the issuing of the guidance by the ERS it was established procedure and known throughout the union that branches could only inform their members who the branch had nominated and not why. In any event the new guidance was not endorsed by the NEC as required by rule.

3. The Returning Officer, Alex Lonie, was sent Team Dave emails in January 2016. Mr Lonie neglected to refer to them in his official Returning Officer report published on 18 February.

4. The ERS was asked by Private Eye magazine about the Team Dave emails and their investigation at a time before the report was published and at a time when the ERS should have been conducting an independent investigation. In its response, the ERS informed Private Eye - "UNISON is preparing a report for Mr Lonie which would enable him to decide if the election was properly conducted. UNISON would then in turn report his decision back to its members."

Background #Unisongate 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 23-minute tape appeared on an Anonymous Blog here: 

The audio file can be downloaded online here:  

The audio recording largely features the voice of UNISON’s London regional secretary, 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 staff 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 sacking, privatising or cutting the Terms and Conditions of our members. The idea that union paid unelected officials would go behind the backs of locally elected branch officials is appalling and has no place in a trade union. To date there has been no condemnation of these remarks or any investigation.

 Repeated calls for an independent investigation were turned down.

The “Team Dave” emails 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


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