General Secretary

April 2017 | 03.04.2017

A VICTORY FOR COMMON SENSE

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IN MY DECEMBER 2015 GATELODGE ARTICLE, I INFORMED THE MEMBERSHIP THAT THE STRIKE ACTION ON 13TH NOVEMBER 2015 AT ASHWORTH SPECIAL HOSPITAL WAS A LAST RESORT, AFTER TWO OF OUR NURSES, PETER HILTON AND KEVIN GREGSON, WERE DISMISSED BY MERSEY CARE TRUST FOLLOWING THE RESTRAINT OF A VIOLENT PATIENT.

In my capacity as Chair of our Special Hospitals Committee, it gave me no pleasure in recommending to the Executive that we needed to take strike action to get this issue in the public domain. After all, discussions appeared to fall on deaf ears within the Trust and they kept to the managerial line that they were correct and we were wrong.

I stated in that article that an independent review was needed, in which I believed if it had taken place, then Messrs Hilton and Gregson would have been absolved from any wrong-doing.

I didn’t get that independent review but the POA continued to back both members from this injustice and funded the individuals all the way to an Employment Tribunal and won both cases for unfair dismissal. At a recent remedy hearing, both Mr Hilton and Mr Gregson were awarded in excess of £40,000 each.

Trade union discrimination

We all know that Employment Tribunals can only recommend re-instatement and Mersey Care would not have to comply with that recommendation, perhaps that is why the compensation was increased from the normal, derisory pay outs at Tribunals.

Further to this, Branch Official, Gary Lyon, was targeted by senior management because Ashworth were going on strike (which is their basic fundamental human right) and that process of balloting was carried out under the anti-trade union law restrictions, with the threat of injunctions regarding the process at each stage, even although we had carried out the process correctly under the restrictions of the anti-union laws.

Letters were sent to Mr Lyons, which we believed amounted to trade union discrimination and we applied to an Employment Tribunal on that basis. At that hearing, Mersey Care management attempted to justify their actions but this was rejected by the Employment Tribunal.

They did not appeal the decision and recently, a remedy hearing awarded in excess of £6,000 to our Branch Official. In my view, the judgement was scathing of the attitude of senior managers of Mersey Care. It may well be, at the time of writing this article, that Mersey Care Trust will appeal the amount of compensation just because they can. However, with their track record and judgement I don’t believe they will be successful because of the damning finding against them at the hearing.

POA investment

The POA rightly invested a lot of time, effort and union resources, and great legal representation from Neil Johnson of Thompsons and Old Square Chambers, to win this case for our three members at Ashworth.

In the words of Mr Hilton: “I don’t understand why anyone would be in any other union than the POA. I know we would never have got to prove our innocence but for the support of the POA and its members. I will be forever grateful.”

This was a long, drawn-out process that took its toll on our members and their families at Ashworth, but it need not have been like this. I attempted to negotiate solutions rather than going through the courts to no avail. I am proud of our members at Ashworth and that this Union did not take one single backward step to get our members justice.

Names are cleared

Their names have been cleared. They were also found by the Nursing & Midwifery Council to have done nothing wrong either. You have to pose the question; why then did Mersey Care Trust spend tens of thousands of taxpayer’s money defending their position in three cases? The simple answer must be they were defending incompetent managers and abusing an NHS that is struggling financially. It is very easy, I suppose, using tax payer’s money to defend the indefensible but I wonder they would they have defended the cases if the money had come out of their pockets?

Now that we have won the cases, which at times was a very bitter and hostile dispute over the last two years, inevitably we will need to move on and hopefully, the cases of Messrs Hilton, Gregson and Lyons will make Mersey Care Trust a more caring employer who values their staff and learn the lessons that they clearly need to learn.

Continued POA support

The POA will always defend its members in line with the principles of the legal aid scheme which is endorsed by Conference. This fight was long and hard but worth every single penny. I want to ensure there are decent industrial relations at Ashworth but as the old saying states; ‘it takes two to tango’ and management over the last two years have been found to be out of step, not just once but three times.

They need to demonstrate, not just to me but to the membership at Ashworth as well, that they have learned their lesson and that they want good industrial relations at the Trust. If that is what they want, I stand ready to assist them on getting back in step with the help of ACAS if necessary.

Industrial relations in NOMS

As I have identified above in relation to Ashworth, we have the legitimate right to ballot our members for strike action on a trade union dispute but sadly with NOMS, we are not afforded that protection even though the anti-trade legislation gives employers the upper hand in ballot procedures.

Michael Spurr, CEO, recently said to me that he doesn’t like applying to the courts for injunctions, so I simply responded saying, “well don’t do it then.”

They use the courts as a comfort blanket simply because, in my view they don’t have the ability to sit down and negotiate properly with the POA. A reliance on the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 Section 127 (since amended) should have no place in a modern society. Slavery was abolished under the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 and received Royal Assent on 28th August 1833. Yet there is still draconian legislation called the anti-trade union laws that restrict trade unions, which is in effect modern day slavery. Trade unions are told and legislated against on their rule book, their accounts, who they can let in their union, when and how to hold elections and who should be elected and for how long that term of office should be.

Antiquated laws

We are restricted on who we can discipline under our rules and effectively, if we don’t abide by the above, anyone can make a complaint for the sake of making a complaint whether it is justified or not. We in the POA have an added restriction of Section 127 regarding so-called ‘inducement’. These antiquated laws need to go so that trade unions are in control of their rule book and the membership decide what can be done and what cannot be done.

A union rule book should be for union members to decide how their union is run. Restrictions are far worse now under the Trade Union Bill 2016, where the Certification Officer has more powers over complaints, political funds and membership databases. Of course, we need to ensure our Union is transparent but surely that is up to the members through Annual Conference not a judge or Certification Officer as part of a deliberate act of legislation to disrupt the smooth running of a trade union?

POA is restricted

The POA are so restricted by Section 127 of the Criminal Justice Public Order Act 1994, that management don’t actually have to be competent in negotiation skills because if we sneeze in the wrong direction they will interpret that we are breaching the legislation, and run to the courts and hide behind ridiculous legislation to get what they want and then bully and intimidate individuals on their interpretation of what the Judge has stated. I have lost count since 1994 how many times Government and employers have hidden behind the robes of the High Court.

It has never been the answer and certainly won’t be the answer in the future. I challenge senior officials in NOMS and in Government to take the shackles off us, give us the same fundamental human rights as other workers with full collective bargaining on all matters including pay. Abolish the Pay Review Body, have a meaningful industrial relations procedural agreement that resolves disputes instead of kicking them into the long grass, but I suppose they will never volunteer to get rid of their comfort blanket that they hide behind on a regular basis.

I think that speaks volumes of their capabilities in dealing with a union on an equal footing. I want to have good industrial relations with senior officials of NOMS and indeed Government, so that we can negotiate real outcomes for POA members that are meaningful and fair across the board. At the moment, we have a Service in crisis with ministers playing fast and loose with the health and safety of our members and those that are in our care.

We won’t just stand by and watch the Service go into decline and our members being treated as just statistics. We will campaign aggressively and out injustices at every opportunity until ministers and senior officials realis e they cannot just bypass us and hide behind the courts.

Steve Gillan
General Secretary