Saturday, March 17, 2007

A threat to UNISON democracy - or just a mistake?

Apologies for the lack of posts, dear readers, I am afraid I have been a bit tied up this week. However, something caught my eye on our UNISON website today and got me thinking about this…

UNISON is increasingly, and rightly, concerned to do our bit to combat Climate Change. One of the lay activists who has done more than almost any other to push this issue up our agenda has been Plymouth Branch Secretary, Tony Staunton, about whom I have blogged here before.

I won’t comment here and now on the detail of internal UNISON investigations, but there is one matter which is already in the public domain, which I can’t let pass. Tony has been suspended from holding office within the Union under UNISON Rules – but has not faced any disciplinary hearing.

However, he now has been told that he is ineligible to be nominated for election to a UNISON post whilst subject to this suspension. This is wrong and I hope that Tony’s appeal against this ruling succeeds. Suspension is not a disciplinary sanction but a precautionary measure.

If UNISON were to interpret our Rules so as to prevent members who are suspended from holding office from standing for election this would deny members the democratic right to nominate and vote for a candidate who has not been found guilty of any offence. It would leave those who decide about such matters vulnerable to the perception that decisions on suspensions were being taken in order to pre-empt Union elections.

As decisions in relation to elections for the NEC are a matter for the independent Returning Officer (and not directly for the Union) it would be premature to conclude that there is any deliberate intent to frustrate UNISON democracy. I hope that those who are jumping to this conclusion are mistaken.

I have raised my concerns as a member of the NEC and will report back in due course.

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