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Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name. (William Morris - A Dream of John Ball)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

What were the four recommendations to UNISON from the (Assistant) Certification Officer?

The decision of the (Assistant) Certification Officer, issued now online following a lengthy hearing, and including considerable criticism of some conduct associated with the last UNISON General Secretary election (and a declaration that UNISON breached its own Rules in certain respects) concludes with some recommendations from the Assistant Certification Officer.

These aren’t orders and are in no sense legally binding, but they are the considered recommendations of a judge who heard a lot of evidence and issued a balanced decision (which UNISON very promptly welcomed). I hope that the incoming National Executive Council (NEC), which will take office in a month from now (and on which there is no longer a secure majority for unquestioning support for the leadership) will consider and act upon these recommendations.

In this blog post I intend to look at what the recommendations are, and then in future posts to provide further relevant commentary, based upon the decision of the Assistant Certification Officer and the evidence which was presented to her.

The first recommendation (paragraph 311) is that “the Union has a thorough internal discussion and debate to consider what level of paid officer activity in internal General Secretary election campaigning it wishes to have, consistent with its aims and objectives, and draft clear, unambiguous and uniformly understood rules, to reflect the decisions it reaches.” At the risk of appearing less than modest I can point out that the Lambeth branch did try to propose some Rule Amendments for debate at this year’s Conference in order to provoke precisely this debate, but they were ruled out of order. In any event, I shall come back to those elements of the published decision which plainly underpin this sensible recommendation in a future blog post.

The second recommendation (paragraph 312) is that the Union “should also conduct a thorough consideration of how similar future problems such as occurred in the London Region can be avoided in that, and other regions.” In making that recommendation the Assistant Certification notes that “work is also required to restore trust amongst its Greater London members following the activities of the Regional Secretary and the RMT which have done such damage to the Union’s reputation both internally and externally.” I think that the incoming NEC may be well placed to seek the cultural change necessary both nationally and – in London – regionally in order to take meaningful action in response to this recommendation. I have already made some observations about what the decision means for UNISON in Greater London and (as regular readers of this blog Sid and Doris Albanian-Stalinist will be able to imagine) this is a subject to which I may well be tempted to return.

The third recommendation (paragraph 313) is that “there are lessons to be learnt from the saga of the Original and Revised Guidance and how such issues can be better dealt with between ERS and the Union in future.” I have not yet commented, since receiving the decision on Monday, on what it has to say about this particular topic (nor about the Assistant Certification Officer’s description of the conduct and correspondence of one of our Assistant General Secretaries) but I have blogged here before about some of the relevant history, which in some ways arose from a post on this very blog. An NEC which does not see itself as subordinate to officialdom could (and perhaps will) review the working relationship between UNISON and ERS (noting, I hope, both the praise and criticisms made by the ACO).

The fourth and final recommendation (paragraph 314) is that “a whistleblowing policy should be considered and agreed through the Union’s collective procedures without further delay.” That this has not already been done is surely an indictment of our NEC Staffing Committee (the composition of which must – and I am sure will – change a month from now). It is worth remembering that, were it not for the courage of the anonymous whistleblower who recorded the disgraceful conduct of the former Greater London Regional Secretary and her Regional Management Team on 21 October 2015, those of us who have taken the complaints which have led to these recommendations would have had no sufficient evidence to get to where we are now.

Whether the lack of progress in agreeing a policy to protect staff who blow the whistle on malpractice also sheds any interesting light on the priorities of the staff trade unions is, very obviously, something about which I have nothing to say.

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