Monday, 1 December 2014

Victimised PCS reps abandoned by "militant " union.

The main civil service union PCS is regarded by both it's leaders and outsiders as very much a left-wing union with the General Secretary Mark Serwotka designated as one of the "awkward squad" by the press for some years. Led by the far-left Socialist Party one would expect that defending it's reps from victimisation by management would be a priority.

This has not been the case with John Pearson and Sofia Azam who have seemingly been left out in the cold by the union. In the case of John Pearson it has been suggested that this is due to his brand of left-wing politics which is not to the leaderships liking. No way of proving this of course, though supporters have claimed there has been a smear campaign against him.

Times are hard in the civil service and life for reps has never been more difficult, more so in some departments than others. Phil Dickens writes:

John was sacked by Hewlett Packard for sharing information passed to him in his capacity as an elected union official with the members he was elected to represent, and then refused support from the union and tried to claim that he had brought his situation on himself.

Since then, John paid his own legal fees to take the case to an Employment Tribunal. In a damning indictment of the PCS decision, he won his case. The tribunal ruled that he was unfairly dismissed for carrying out his union duties, and that the information he shared could not reasonably have been assumed to have been in confidence.

However, rather than admit that it was wrong and offer support for John in retrospect, the union dug in its heels. Even after an open letter to General Secretary Mark Serwotka that received a huge amount of signatures and publicity, the union leadership's response was to repeat a number of false assertions and insist that it was right to refuse John support.

Why cannot the leadership admit they made a mistake? It is the least they could do in the circumstances no one, not even the failed messiah Serwotka is infallible.

In similar circumstances (the sharing of information), PCS backed Sofia Azam and lost. They are now refusing to support her appeal.

There is to be a lobby of the PCS National Executive Committee tomorrow.

John and Sofia have issued the following statement:
We will send a request to NEC members in advance, to come out and talk to us, instead of just accepting what they are spoon fed by General Secretary Mark Serwotka and the union’s full time officials.

We were both sacked for directly carrying out duties as union branch officers, on the instructions of our Branch Executive Committees. John sent to union members details of the information on proposed redundancies that his employer was statutorily obliged to supply to the union for the purposes of consultation. Sofia was sacked for sending details of the grading of posts following a staffing restructure. In both cases, the employers tried to block union involvement by improperly attaching a ‘confidential’ stamp to industrial relations data which the union members affected had a right and an interest in being presented to them by their elected union representatives.

After hearing 3 days of sworn evidence, including testimony from 5 of John’s witnesses and 3 of the employer’s witnesses, the Tribunal decided that John was carrying out a legitimate union duty and, crucially, that the information, “provided for consultation purposes, could not be properly considered to be confidential“. Had the union instructed its solicitors to fight Sofia’s Tribunal case on the same basis, she would in all probability have won. Instead, they fought Sofia’s case on the grounds that she was contritious for having mistakenly circulated the material. In John’s case, the union full time official (FTO) would not contest the employer’s assertion that it had a right to decide what information supplied to the union is or is not ‘confidential’. The FTO wanted to accompany John to disciplinary hearings to plead for clemency. John’s approach has been proven to have been absolutely correct. His dismissal was unlawful because, despite all the attacks that have been made on union organisation, there is still legal protection against suffering dismissal, or detriment short of dismissal, for carrying out union activities.

PCS is a union which is led by left-wingers, including members of the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party. It used to have a perspective of rank and file control. The notion that the union will only represent elected officers and reps who agree with the full time officer’s advice flies in the face of such a perspective. The contrasting cases of John and Sofia show which approach is correct.

One does not need to share the political perspective outlined in the final paragraph to realise that something is more than wrong at the heart of PCS.

PCS is in trouble enough at the moment if they fail to give the necessary support to the lay reps on the ground when conducting legitimate trade union duties, what does this say to the wider membership?

The union must reconsider its position on the cases of both individuals and ensure that reps are not abandoned in this way in future.

Lobby of PCS in support of victimised reps
PCS HQ, 160 Falcon Road, London, SW11 2BR
(5 minutes from Clapham Junction train station)
12.30pm Tuesday 2 December

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