A long-standing Unite branch secretary has been subject to an alleged sustained campaign of bullying and discrimination by Conservative-controlled Bromley council, says Unite, the country’s largest union.
Papers were served on the council today (Thursday 31 March) by Unite legal services’ panel solicitors Thompsons to answer the case that grandmother Kath Smith, branch secretary since 2011, was subject to concerted victimisation as she tried to carry out her legitimate trade union activities, while the authority embarked on a mass privatisation campaign.
The employment tribunal to hear the case is expected in the summer.
The case centres on:
1. Acts of ongoing trade union victimisation. Examples include refusing Ms Smith the right to stand at departmental elections - something she has done since the role was introduced a decade ago
2. Repeated refusals for the right to time off in lieu when she is required to represent members on non-working days; failure to fix her phone and computer so as to prevent her from contacting/assisting members
3. Breach of the right to take reasonable paid time-off to carry out trade union duties and training in aspects of industrial relations – this has happened on numerous occasions since the council removed full time trade union facility time in June 2015 on the basis of alleged cost saving, despite Unite offering to pay for this
4. Breach of the right to take reasonable unpaid time-off to carry out trade union activities – again on numerous occasions since facility time was removed.
Unite said that these allegations have to be seen in the context that the council is fully committed to becoming a commissioning council and reducing the number of council employees from 4,000 to 300 – despite having £320 million in reserves.
The council’s latest target is the privatisation of 14 libraries, replacing staff with unpaid volunteers in six libraries and handing eight to a private company - the council is refusing to name the bidders for this contract.
The volunteers are being organised by Community Links Bromley and Unite activists will be staging the latest protest outside the company’s headquarters at Community House, South Street, Bromley BR1 1RH tomorrow (Friday 1 April) between 09.30 - 10.30.
Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: “What we are witnessing is a sustained campaign of victimisation against Kath Smith, who has worked for the library service since 1997, for her legitimate trade union activities.
“We believe that Kath has been singled out because of her brave stance against the council’s mass privatisation campaign which has already seen the parks service being outsourced. Libraries are next on the ‘hit’ list.
“Unite is strongly committed, not only to defending our branch secretary, but our members working for the council and, more widely, the much-valued public services that the people of Bromley rely on.
“We know that Community Links Bromley is working with the council to introduce volunteers at libraries. This has elicited a harsh response from the council – including attacks on our branch secretary. The protests will now be developed to be bigger and even more effective – for instance, we will look at publicity stunts like authors doing outdoor book readings.
“We also intend to contact the not for profit organisations affiliated to the company in question and prepare protests outside their buildings too. Further dates will be set for industrial action to coincide with the protests.”
Unite legal officer Nicky Marcus said: “Unite legal services will do all that has to be done to support Kath and to prevent victimisation of our representatives.
“All of our members, but most particularly our representatives should understand the level of support that Unite legal services will offer when our members and representatives come under attack for carrying out their normal trade union activities.”
What is happening in Bromley comes against the backdrop of a Fair Deal For Local Government campaign by Unite’s London and Eastern region which has almost 300,000 members. The campaign is aimed against privatisation and austerity in local government.
The campaign is a set of proposals that Unite is putting to councils in the region. It is a procurement strategy to ensure that quality services are maintained and that there is no ‘race to the bottom’ for pay and conditions post any transfer.
Notes to editors:
For more information please contact Unite regional officer Onay Kasab on 07771 818637 and/or Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Unite legal services acts for over 20,000 members a year and recovered over £160 million in damages last year. Unite legal services have taken the most high profile of employment cases over the last 12 months, regularly supporting representatives victimised in the workplace.
Unite legal services recently won the holiday pay case allowing workers to receive their normal pay in their times of rest, this win alone was worth tens of millions in compensation for Unite members.
The main points of Fair Deal For Local Government campaign can be found on the campaign website http://uniteforpublicservices.org/
- Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.