Monday, May 22, 2017

The implications of the Certification Officer decision in UNISON's Greater London Region

UNISON has commented on the outcome of the various complaints made to the Certification Officer by several complainants (including your blogger).

The Union welcomes the decision of the ACO (Assistant Certification Officer) to “uphold the result of the 2015 general secretary election and reject the call from the complainants for a rerun”.

To describe the decision in such terms could generously be described as somewhat misleading. It is true that the ACO refused to make an enforcement order that the election be rerun. That outcome was never likely.

UNISON ought to offer our members a full and honest account of the decision – and it is quite right that part of that should be to report that no enforcement order was made. It is equally true that the ACO refused to make many of the particular declarations sought by the various complainants.

She did, however, make a declaration that our trade union breached our own Rules in that the Union’s “funds, property and resources were impermissibly used to campaign for a particular candidate.” That is a very important critical declaration and one which UNISON should treat with respect and from which it should seek to learn.

I shall comment on various aspects of this decision, and consider which of the many documents released for the proceedings to publish, over the coming weeks. From my point of view, as a member of UNISON’s National Executive Council (NEC) representing the Greater London Region I am particularly concerned that UNISON members in that Region should be fully informed of important findings of fact concerning the conduct of those officials charged with management responsibility for the Region.

Given the hasty and partial (in every sense) public statement on our website today I think that I need to do something about that.

The ACO’s decision is particularly scathing in its assessment of the meeting of all Greater London Regional Staff held at Congress House at 2pm 21 October 2015 (about which you may well first have read here) where, the ACO says in paragraph 3(2) of her decision; “during work time the Regional Secretary of the London Region openly campaigned for Mr Prentis re-election for General Secretary and directed her staff to campaign for Mr Prentis during working time, and was assisted and supported by her Regional Management Team.”

Of the transcript of that meeting, which was accepted as accurate by UNISON, the ACO says, in paragraph 154, “No matter how many times one re-reads the transcript, the shock does not diminish. It is flagrant: Ms Perks’ tone is not just confident and swaggering in so openly breaking the rules, but chilling in its brazenness and demonstration of unchecked power.”

Commenting upon the Union’s disciplinary investigation (conducted by Assistant General Secretary Roger McKenzie) the ACO returns to the theme of the involvement of the Regional Management Team (RMT) observing, at paragraph 208, that “the RMT in particular have covered up for Ms Perks. It is preposterous to assert, as they each do in mantra fashion, that the meeting took place in non-work time. To his credit, Mr McKenzie soon saw through their disingenuity. He does not however draw the obvious and natural inference or conclusion from this fact – that the RMT were also directly involved in breach of the rules and have sought to collude with Ms Perks in the over up in their apparent dissembling to him in their interviews.”

It is fair to say that UNISON did not seek to defend the conduct of the former London Regional Secretary at the hearing. On the contrary, UNISON did all it could to distance itself from her gross misconduct, arguing that the Union could not be held to be vicariously liable for what she had done.

The ACO is dismissive of this attempt, finding, in paragraph 258, that “the Union is responsible for all the actions of its Regional Secretary that I have found were in breach of the Election Procedures and the Rules.”

The ACO points out that the Regional Secretary was a very senior employee and that “she and her RMT engaged in deliberate breaches… …she misused the position entrusted to her, which has injured the members of UNISON in that there has been unfairness in the General Secretary election as well as undermining the standing of the Union in the eyes of the public.”

In the preceding paragraph the ACO also comments on what she sees as the “remarkable clemency and lenience” of the disciplinary sanction imposed upon the former Regional Secretary who received a final written warning and disciplinary transfer (without loss of pay) for “her actions which have done such immeasurable damage to the Union’s reputation.”

The ACO returns to this theme in paragraph 295 where she is critical of the “leisurely disciplinary proceedings of Ms Perks and outcome (which) do not inspire confidence or serve as a deterrent to future over zealous paid officials. Some might think the move to National Secretary in Head Office on unspecified strategic projects retaining all pay and benefits represents reward rather than punishment, although she has endured the imposition of a final written warning.”

In the following paragraph the ACO tackles “the failure to address the involvement of the whole of the London RMT which was explicit and apparent from the tape of the 21 October meeting” which she describes as “very troubling” commenting further that “the collusion of the Greater London RMT was deliberately ignored by the Union and no explanation for the failure to address it has been given.”

One month from now I shall cease, after fourteen years, to be a member of the UNISON NEC. It will fall to the incoming NEC to sort out the mess that is UNISON’s Greater London Regional office, wherein a culture in which the meeting of 21 October 2015 was possible has yet to be changed.

There is no possibility that UNISON will achieve its potential in our capital city whilst the Regional Office remains mired in a culture that is deferential to authority (whether or not properly exercised) and hostile to critical thought. If the national leadership of UNISON (lay and full-time) have the courage and confidence to take further decisive action UNISON members in London could have the trade union to which they are entitled.

Our Regional Committee and Regional Council officers are also challenged to accept the responsibilities which come with adulthood and to assert the democratic authority of elected lay members over the direction of paid officials. Reading and reflecting upon the ACO decision in its entirety once it is published will be a good start.

Whilst I regret that it was necessary for me to complain outside of our movement about the evident malpractice which was brought to my attention I am quite convinced that the best thing that I have done for UNISON members in Greater London has been to play a role in opening up this possibility for change.

I relinquish my role in Greater London UNISON knowing that, whatever else may or may not change there will be a little less confident swaggering and chilling brazenness in those parts of Congress House rented by UNISON than once there was.

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