Saturday, 1 September 2007

UNION MEN BEHAVING BADLY

As many ordinary members know, the unions have behaved appallingly over equal pay. Instead of standing up for their members the have been:

  • deliberately keeping people in the dark - for years
  • doing the employers' dirty work over settlement offers
  • putting the interests of traditional male groups above those of lower paid women members
The campaign to hold the trade unions to account suffered a setback recently - with the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) overturning a previous landmark judgment against the GMB union.

The GMB were found guilty by an Employment Tribunal in Newcastle of discriminating against their low paid women members, which said that the GMB had got its members to agree (to an employer settlement offer) by "using a marked economy of truth". In other words that they deceived their own members!

But, incredibly, the EAT (a higher court) recently held that although the GMB did indeed discriminate in this way - the discrimination was lawful. The EAT also held that the previous employment tribunal did not have to question whether the union's actions were lawful, negligent or morally acceptable.

Which just goes to prove that old adage that - even today - the law can still be an ass.

The EAT did not consider whether the GMB had struck the right or even a fair balance between the needs of different groups of members - nor did it say anything about the way the GMB came to its decision. All it really said was that it was OK for the union to discriminate on this occasion because it was wrestling with a difficult problem.

But all is not lost - not by a long chalk - because the EAT judgment raises more questions than it answers - and has attracted a great deal of scathing criticism.

For example, Stephen Levinson writing in the magazine People Management commented: "The EAT said that even if the behaviour was not unlawful discrimination, it my be unlawful on other grounds. The union's alleged conduct could breach an implied duty of fair representation or the women (members) could claim for losses caused by misrepresentation."

Indeed, the EAT judgment seems to point women union members in the direction of simply suing their trade unions for straightforward negligence and financial loss - instead of going down the discrimination route.

So, there is still all to play for - there are various options open to us including the right of appeal beyond the EAT.

Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross are still intent on holding the unions to account for their behaviour.

Why? Because it's not a fair fight. Individual union members are battling unsupported against big union bureaucracies and the very people charged with looking after their interests in the first place.

It's David versus Goliath all over again - and we're on the side of the little guy!