Friday, May 16, 2008

A positive development for the rights of union members

A little more than a year ago I expressed my concern here at a decision to prevent a UNISON member standing for election to the National Executive Council because they had been suspended from holding office (although at that time they had not been found guilty of any disciplinary offence).

This is what I said in March of last year;

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.”

The case has now been decided by the Certification Officer, as UNISON did indeed stand by this questionable interpretation of the Rules and this was challenged. The Certification Officer has found that UNISON breached the law by preventing a member from seeking election to office because they were suspended.

The Certification Officer says, in a judgement which will be published soon;

“First, the right of a union member to stand for election is an important right of membership, as in any democratic organisation, and should not be taken away unless the members have so decided in a clearly expressed rule to that effect. Secondly, at the time that a rule C7.4 suspension is imposed, the member has not been found to have committed a disciplinary offence and it is therefore to be supposed that the suspension is not intended as a penalty.”

I won’t comment further on any other aspects of the case in question at this time, but will observe that – while the Union clearly can appeal this judgement and has previously been successful in appeals against rulings of the Certification Officer – this particular point is straightforward and ought to be accepted. A precautionary suspension ought not to put the person suspended at an avoidable disadvantage, otherwise it amounts to the premature imposition of a disciplinary sanction.

We wouldn’t accept it from the employers and we ought not to have applied it to ourselves. All UNISON members owe a debt to the claimant who pursued this case.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for informing us of this Jon - as usual you are absolutely right, and as a UNISON member I am extremely grateful.

As you say, we wouldn't accept this from an employer, and we damn well shouldn't accept this from our own union!

Anonymous said...

The problem is that UNISON officials do seem to go off and do what they want when they want -which can mean ignoring common sense and the rule book - unless it suits! Did this actually cost UNISON money -and if so how can questions be asked on this? kat