A public health specialist working for Tory-controlled Kent county council, who mentioned that pension funds invest in tobacco companies, has been threatened with disciplinary action by the council.
Unite, the country’s largest union, said that the Unite member has been threatened with disciplinary action after giving an interview to BBC Radio Kent earlier this month to highlight the dangers of smoking.
Unite said that the issue at stake was the freedom of a public health specialist, who is governed by the ethical code of the Faculty of Public Health (FPH) and endorsed by NHS England, to speak out on matters of public concern, whether it was smoking, drug abuse or excessive drinking.
The Unite member was cleared by the county’s council’s press office to speak to the radio station on obesity and was then asked to do a pre-recorded interview on smoking. It was during this interview that she mentioned the connection between council pension funds and tobacco companies.
She was then hauled in front of her manager and an HR advisor and told she could either accept a warning being placed on her record for 12 months or face a full-scale disciplinary hearing.
Unite regional officer Ian Methven said: “What is at stake here is the freedom of speech for a public health specialist to speak out on issues well within her remit, and professional competence and expertise.
“We call on the council to withdraw this threat of disciplinary action immediately and to acknowledge its error in using the new ‘protected conversation’ legislation as a tool to discipline employees.
“Health professionals should be allowed to conduct their work without these threats to their careers and livelihoods.
“This is not about the health risks of smoking, but a question of free speech and the public interest which Unite will strongly fight to uphold.
“Unite believes that the action taken by the authority is a direct threat to the Faculty of Public Health’s standards of practice for public health specialists.
“The FPH is the leading professional body for public health specialists in the UK which promotes and protects the health of the population. It advocates on key public health issues and provides practical information and guidance for public health professionals.
“The county council is embarking on a substantial plan over the next four years to transform the authority and it needs the support and engagement of its employees.
“This action by the county council will do nothing to secure the confidence of its employees in its plans.
“I urge the leader of the county council Paul Carter to act now and limit the negative effect this situation is causing.”
For further information please contact Ian Methven on 07876 501150 and/or Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 07768 693940
- Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.