Friday, 20 November 2015

South Lanarkshire

I've been sent an interesting exchange of posts from a reader in South Lanarkshire featuring the Facebook page of the local Unison branch.

SCH Whilst I'm glad that the fund has a surplus and would want to see every member represented at disciplinary and grievances; wouldn't the money be better spent in seeking quality independent legal advice when disputes arise? Whilst branch officials and stewards do their best - quality legal advice at the start of the equal pay dispute would have prevented many women members suffering hardship while waiting for a settlement. I'm not affected by the equal pay dispute myself but like other members, want to ensure that the situation never happens again.

Reply · November 15 at 11:59pm · Edited
Unison South Lanarkshire Legal advice is available and was at the start of the the equal pay saga. The advice we received at the time was consistent with the advice received by other unions. The legal advice changed in light of the development of case law. If you could turn the clock back and get new advice based on what we know now we would do a lit of things differently in life as well as in union issues.

Now this comes hot on the heels of the news that the union has a huge local fund worth £700,000 which members have built up over the years by paying an additional levy on top of their normal Unison membership fees.

I can't imagine that Unison at national level are happy about this because it raises big questions about accountability and standards - the management of these funds and purpose to which they are being put.

But for the moment I'll restrict myself to Unison's comments in relation to legal advice in which the union suggests that the legal position changed in response to developments in case law.

Now this is complete drivel if you ask me, because Action 4 Equality Scotland launched the fight for equal pay back in 2005 and the case was made on the basis of huge differences in pay between male and female jobs which existed at the time - the Council's position did not weaken and ultimately collapse because of 'developments in case law'.

So if I were a Unison member in South Lanarkshire I'd be asking to see this legal advice and the advice of the QC whom branch officials met back in 2009 - did Unison organise and pay for this advice at a national level or did local branch officials set this up themselves and pay the bill out of their South Lanarkshire levy?

More to follow.

Union Bombshell (02/09/15)

So here is the document I referred to earlier today which must come as rather a big bombshell to Unison members in South Lanarkshire. 

Now there are so many dumb things about this report that it's difficult to know where to start, but let's kick off in the first sentence where the genius who wrote this nonsense manages to spell Stefan Cross's name incorrectly.

Attention to detail is very important, in my view, because if people get the simple things wrong, then they are much more likely to screw up when it comes to the big issues as well.

Which means that this is probably a good time to say that Stefan Cross has never employed a 'competence initiative adviser' and so where this particular piece of nonsense comes from is also a mystery.

But on to matters of more substance and, specifically, to Unison's claim that South Lanarkshire Council had agreed to "settle with all council employees should the lose the ET (Employment Tribunal). The Council are drafting an agreement."

Now I have to say this is exactly what I recall at the time, i.e. that Unison was actively discouraging its members from pursue equal pay claims with Action 4 Equality Scotland, or anyone else, because the union claimed to have reached an agreement with the Council which meant that all SLC employees would benefit, if A4ES won at the Employment Tribunal.

In effect, Unison's message to members in South Lanarkshire was that they had no need to take up an equal pay claim against the Council because everything was nicely sewn up - there was already a done deal.

Yet any Unison member following this advice has lost out substantially because by 2009 lots of Action 4 Equality Scotland clients had already had their equal pay claims registered for four years. And even then it was still some time (months, perhaps years) before Unison began submitting cases of its own.

As if that's not enough, we then have the final sentence of the document which states clearly and explicitly that Unison's campaign of "inviting people people to come back to the union to fight their equal pay claims....does not apply to South Lanarkshire."

So you can't get much more categorical than that because the union's position is stated in black and white, on behalf of the whole Unison branch.

I imagine that the 'Stephen' referred to in the document is Stephen Smellie, the Unison branch secretary and although I don't know who 'Margaret' is, I'm sure these two individuals will have a lot of explaining to do in the days ahead. 

For my part, I'm just glad to help union members put their local history straight, to coin a phrase, although I would dearly love to know what happened to the much vaunted Unison agreement with South Lanarkshire Council.

As an old friend of mine was fond of saying: "It's probably not worth the paper it wasn't written on."     

South Lanarkshire Unison Branch Council - 9 June 2009.

Agenda Item 9 - Equal Pay

Stephen advised that Stephan (sic) Cross had now employed a competence initiative adviser and claims against the Council had been delayed and would probably take place later in the year. Stephen and Margaret had attended a meeting with the QC and had gone back to Corporate seeking confirmation that they will settle with all council employees should they lose the ET. The Council are drafting an agreement. It was noted that although Unison is running a campaign inviting people to come back to the union to fight their equal pay claims, this does not apply to South Lanarkshire.