Friday, 30 October 2015

Independent Referee

I've written previous post for the blog site about the need for trade unions to be more accountable to their members when things go wrong.

Which is what my petition about an independent complaints process is all about - fairness, dignity and being treated with respect. 

Because unlike lots of other areas of public life, trade unions are not regulated effectively by an independent referee who looks at the situation from the standpoint of the 'little guy' while judging each case on its facts and merits.

So while we as citizens and consumers can complain about teachers, doctors, lawyers, bankers, the police, the BBC, the energy industry etc etc, - it's still not possible for union members to raise a 'service' complaint  other than with their own trade union.

If you ask me, the union acting as 'judge and jury' in its own cause which stinks to high heaven, especially as unions support independent regulation everywhere else in society. 

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Dropping the Ball (26/03/14)

A reader contacted me the other day to say that his union had taken up an equal pay claim several years ago, but only recently told him that it had made some kind of 'mistake' and that, as a result, the case could not now proceed.

Apparently, the nature of the 'mistake' has not been properly explained and the member says that the union refuses to discuss the situation with him or to provide a more detailed response.  

Now every union has a complaints procedure and if I were the member involved, I would definitely register a complaint and ask the union to make good any financial loss arising from case being dropped, always assuming the person had a valid equal pay claim in the first place.

But from the information shared with me that looks highly likely and the member has letters from both the union and the union's lawyer to say that his case was being taken up.

And if the union's lawyers has been have been involved as the member suggests, then there could be another potential complaint to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission which as an an independent referee in disputes between lawyers and their clients.

All I would say is that if a large and well resourced organisation like a trade union has indeed 'dropped the ball', an individual member should not be expected to pay the price for that mistake.

Taking Responsibility (29/03/14)

Lots of readers have been in touch recently to say that they were given poor advice by their trade unions on the subject of equal pay.

In some cases the readers say that they were discouraged from pursuing equal pay claims and told, in no uncertain terms, that they were wasting their time.

Now I obviously don't know what was actually said, when things were said or by whom such advice was given.

So what I would do is to write to the union concerned setting out exactly what happened and whether or not any other people, such as other union members, were involved who may have witnessed these alleged events.

If poor or negligent advice has been issued, then I would expect any union worth its salt to compensate members for any financial loss that has been suffered, as a result of following the union's advice.

And if the union concerned does not respond in a reasonable or satisfactory way, having regard to all the available evidence, I would seek legal advice on the possibility of bringing a claim for negligence.

Because the bottom line is that union members should not be expected to lose out for doing what the union tells them to do - over equal pay or anything else.

DIY and Equal Pay (02/03/14)

A number of readers have been in touch about the post on advice to union members over equal pay - from around the country and not just South Lanarkshire.

A typical comment is that their union is not interested and tells people they should have registered an equal pay claim - that this was their individual responsibility not the union's acting collectively.

Now this is a very odd stance to take if you have ask me, because when trade unions try to sign up new members they make a positive case about of the benefits of union membership and actively persuade people to join.

In other words it's not a spectator sport, so where did this DIY approach to equal pay come from all of a sudden?

And if you think about it for a minute it's a completely barmy attitude for a collective body like a trade union to take - because unions don't behave this way when it comes to strike ballots for example.

In a strike ballot every single trade union member is issued with a ballot paper and is encouraged to support whatever dispute is underway - in practice the members' views count and the union is keen to secure their backing, so they pull out the stops even though the law law lays down certain rules as well. 

Likewise when it comes to the Political Fund and union efforts to encourage their members to support the Labour Party, a topical issue at the moment, but again the unions get in there and get their hands dirty - they don't sit on the sidelines.    

So how is it possible to say, with a straight face at least, that when it comes to equal pay the members are (or were) all on their own?

If you ask me, that sounds terribly odd, inconsistent and unfair.   


Advice to Members (01/03/14)

I have received a number of enquiries from readers in South Lanarkshire - union members who claim that they were given advice by their trade union not to pursue equal pay claims against the council.

Now people are asking me what they should do and all I can do is to say what I would do in their shoes - which is to raise the issue in writing with the union by sending an email to the appropriate union general secretary.

Any letter should set out the facts and circumstances of what advice was given, when and by whom - with as much detail as possible including any written documentation and/or the names of other members who may have been given the same advice.

If it is the case that a trade union has given poor or incorrect advice, then I would expect the trade union concerned to accept that it has a responsibility to put things right - instead of allowing an individual member to suffer the consequences.

Because trade unions are big, powerful, wealthy organisations and if you ask me, it would be terribly unfair for an ordinary union member to lose out as a direct result of following their union's advice.  

So get organised, gather your evidence and state your case - if the facts speak for themselves and something has gone wrong, then any trade union worth its salt should be prepared to do the right thing.