Friday, May 23, 2008

Thinking seriously about a serious matter

Remembering (of course) that you read it here first, readers of this blog may be interested in two recent judgements of the Certification Officer, which need to be given serious consideration by our Union.

In the case of Tony Staunton, as I observed last week, UNISON has been told not to ban candidates in NEC elections from standing simply because they have been suspended pending disciplinary action.

In the case of Yunus Bakhsh, we have been ordered to lift a suspension imposed outside of our own Rules. In this case a suspension that ran for some fourteen months has been found to have been outside of our Rules.

Eleven years ago UNISON took a Certification Officer decision very seriously when it came to light that one or more branches may have made donations in breach of the Political Fund Rules.

That case led to more than one disciplinary investigation within the Union – although not all Certification Officer decisions do lead to such a response.

Many trade union activists are justifiably wary of making complaints about the Union to the courts or to the Certification Officer – sometimes complaints are made and withdrawn.

There is always a debate to be had about the rights and wrongs of taking an internal trade union matter outside of the union. There is also a debate to be had about whether or not the Union should put activists in the position where they feel they have no choice but to do so.

Certification Officer decisions can of course be the subject of an appeal – and it might be premature to rush to judgement about either recent case for this reason.

However it is quite clear that – as things stand – UNISON has been found to have acted in breach of our own Rules in suspending Yunus Bakhsh and to have broken the law by preventing Tony Staunton from standing for election to the NEC.

These are serious matters and I shall expect a serious discussion at the forthcoming meetings of the Development and Organisation Committee and of the National Executive Council.

I know from personal experience that internal disciplinary action within our Union, perceived to have been politically motivated, can be terminated where there is the political will to seek consensus rather than division.

Perhaps now would be a good time for decision-makers in our Union to step back and think carefully about whether the interests of UNISON members will be served by avoidable internal strife?

There is so much more we should be focusing on!

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