Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Bullying in Bassa

Image result for private eye + TV news images

"Eye 1439,s report on air stewardess Karen Mills' victory in winning the right to inspect her trade union's accounts has led to an outpouring of vitriol against her.

"Since 2014 Mrs Mills has been campaigning for ordinary members to have sight for he accounts of the British Airlines Stewards and Stewardesses Association (Bassa), part of Len McCluskey's giant Unite union. Branch accounts for 2008-13 showed that of total expenditure of £524,046, just £106 was accounted for - as postage - while the rest, more than half a million quid, was down as, er, "sundries". 

"Not unreasonably, Mrs Mills and other Bassa members felt they had a right to know how their subs had been spent - not least after rumours began to circulate of high living among senior officials.

"In February the government's trade union certification officer (Tuco) ruled that the union had until 6 April to open the books. Cue a string of increasingly unhinged emails from Bassa to its 9,000 members attacking the tenacious air hostess. The first claimed that by successfully arguing to see the accounts Mrs Mills had, "dealt a major blow for ("against", surely? Ed) every trade unionist in the country and employers will be high-fiving with glee".

"In a second email, Bassa officials warned that as a result of the judgment "there is absolutely no doubt that this has and is going to be a difficult couple of weeks in our history". Why letting members see what £523,940 of their own money was spent on would be so problematic was unclear.

"Members were also told that whoever had left photocopies of the Eye 1439 article in the crew room of Terminal 5 would be hunted down. The culprit would be exposed, it as claimed, via CCTV footage. How the union would have access to CCTV footage in a restricted area was not explained. The union then sent all members copies of the offending Eye article via email! (Thanks for the plug - Ed.) Elsewhere on Bassa's website, Mill's mental health was questioned."

'PS Unite's policy on bullying, with an introduction by Len McCluskey, says the union has "zero tolerance of harassment, discrimination and bullying", adding that "cyber-bullying...is worse than that of other forms of bullying because of (its) remote invisible nature".'


The latest edition of Private Eye contains a quite shocking article about bullying in the Bassa section of the Unite trade union.

I can't imagine how any trade union member can be attacked for wishing to know how their money is being spent, yet according to Private Eye that is precisely what's been happening in Bassa. 


'Loadsamoney' in Lanarkshire (11/004/17)

A kind reader from South Lanarkshire sent me a copy of a job advert to recruit a 'Caseworker' for the local Unison branch at the not to be sniffed at salary of £35,000.

Now I wrote about this last year and I have to say I still don't understand the need for a new Caseworker when South Lanarkshire Council provides time-off, with pay, so that local union reps can carry out their union duties.

I'm sure that Unison branch officials get all the paid time off they need to represent members locally and I imagine that at least one person is released on a full-time basis  - normally the local branch secretary.

The new branch Caseworker is to be employed on a salary of £35,000 and will report to the branch secretary which begs the obvious question: 

"What kind of salary is the branch secretary paid?" 

Because it would be very strange indeed for a manager or supervisor to be paid less than a person they are managing and supervising.

If anyone in South Lanarkshire has useful information or a comment to share, then drop me a note (in confidence of course) to: markirvine@compuserve.com


'Loadsamoney' in Lanarkshire (26/05/16)

Do any readers know what happened to the consultation exercise in South Lanarkshire in which the local Unison branch made proposals to spend some of the £700,000 war chest that's been built up in recent years, thanks to an extra local levy?

If so, let me know as is a great story, especially as the union failed to put this giant money mountain to use during the long fight for equal pay during which branch officials actively advised their own members not to pursue equal pay claims against the local Labour-run council.

'Loadsamoney' (26/11/15)

As the Unison branch in South Lanarkshire ponders what to do with its £700,000 'war chest' of its members' money, said union members must be scratching their heads at the idea of employing a special Caseworker to help with local disciplinary and grievance hearings.

Now leaving aside the fact that unions stewards and branch officers are entitled to paid time off to represent members who get caught up in these procedures, there are some rather  obvious questions to ask including:
  • What is the level of demand?
  • How has demand been measured?
  • How would such a post be advertised?
  • Who would draw up a suitable job description?
  • How would the pay of such a post be determined?
  • Who would be on the interview panel and how would they be selected? 
  • To whom would a Caseworker report and how would this person be managed?
  • Does the Unison branch have the required employer's liability insurance in place and if not, what is the cost? 
  • What qualifications and experience and expertise do Unison branch officials possess to oversee such a process?
  • What safeguards would be put in place to ensure that the successful candidate is not drawn from the existing branch leadership?
  • What safeguards would be put in place to ensure that the successful candidate is not just a 'chum' of the local branch leadership?
Not only that, if the local Unison branch has been sitting on a cash mountain for years worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, then why were these funds not put to much better use during the long fight for equal pay? 

South Lanarkshire (21/11/15)

A regular reader from South Lanarkshire has been in touch to say if the local Unison branch has £700,000 tucked away in a local, then why don't members get a 'holiday' from paying their union membership fees for a year? 

Now it is the members' money after all and I imagine that's a good an idea as any that might emerge from some local branch committee.

Other readers have been in touch with their comments about recruiting a branch 'Caseworker' (see post below) and I'll have more to say on this issue in the next day or two.

South Lanarkshire (20/11/15)

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.

South Lanarkshire (17/11/15)

A kind reader has sent me this post which appears on the Facebook page of the local Unison branch in South Lanarkshire Council.

Now if I were a Unison member in South Lanarkshire I'd be asking how this local fund has been managed and spent over the years, because £700,000 is a awful lot of the members'  money.

From the information posted on Facebook Unison members in South Lanarkshire seem to be paying an extra 5% on top of their normal fees which get paid into this local fund, rather than handed over to the union at national level. 

If so, what explanation do new members get about this higher membership rates operating in South Lanarkshire and are members told that they can pay a lower rate if they wish? 

All seems rather odd if you ask me, as does the proposal to employ someone as a 'Caseworker' when union reps have a legal right to time off, with pay, to represent members involved in disciplinary or grievance procedures.

More to follow.

November 15


Members in South Lanarkshire will receive a ballot paper in the next few days. It will be distributed with the latest edition of our branch newsletter, BRANCHLINE. Please read it and return it in the envelope enclosed. 

The ballot concerns our branch ‘disputes fund.’ This fund was established many years ago by a ballot of members who agreed by a huge majority to set up this fund. It is funded by a small levy paid by branch members. This is 5% of your dues. Therefore if you currently earn £17,000 your contribution to the levy is 47p every 4 weeks. 

This local levy belongs to the branch and cannot be used to fund any activities of the union at Scottish or UK level. It can only be used locally. The stipulation when we set it up was that it would be used to assist members when we are in disputes and take strike action. Over the years therefore we have used it to assist members who were in hardship due to strike action and when members took selective action on behalf of all members we ensured that they were suffering no financial loss. 

The branch Executive believe that having a local fund like this is essential to ensure that when we take industrial action we are able to support members. 

However the fund has now reached a level where the Executive think it appropriate to review it. At the last annual report the local fund had over £700,000 pounds in it. This means it is possibly the largest such fund in the union. It continues to grow each year. This means that should we need to take strike action we are in a strong position to be able to support members who may suffer hardship. 

However, it is the view of the Executive that the local levy could also be used to support members in other ways. Therefore we are asking members to agree that the fund can be used for other purposes than supporting members in disputes. 

We are clear that it cannot be used to support Scottish or UK activities, or to provide funds for conferences, visits, travelling or any other activity by branch members that should be met from our general funds. The proposal is that it could be used for specific agreed projects that would directly benefit and support members in the branch. 

One proposal being considered is the at the branch would employ a ‘Caseworker’ who would be available to provide representation to members in disciplinary and grievances where the branch stewards are unable to do so. This would be a direct benefit to members in addition to the existing representation service that is available via stewards and branch officers. 

We recognise that we need to retain a healthy fund to support members in disputes and so it is proposed that a figure be agreed that the fund should never fall below a certain level. This would be reviewed and agreed annually as part of the annual report and budgeting that members need to agree to.

Please make sure you read the further explanation that is in the Branchline and please cast your vote in the ballot.

To further encourage you to return the ballot paper we are holding a raffle with some pretty good prizes. So return your ballot paper and your raffle slip!


Job Vacancy: Caseworker 
UNISON Grade 5 starting at £34,864
35 hours a week to be worked flexibly
Applications are invited for a post of Caseworker to work with Branch Officers and stewards providing a representation service to members of the UNISON branch.
UNISON South Lanarkshire has 6000 members working in the local council, Leisure and Culture Trust, further education and the community, voluntary and private sector. We have an active group of shop stewards and experienced branch officers.
The successful applicant will have a commitment to the trade union movement, have experience of representing union members and be able to travel.
The post will be based in the branch office in Hamilton. The post will initially be for 2 years.
For an application form and job profile contact:-
Branch Secretary, UNISON South Lanarkshire, 21 Beckford Street, Hamilton, ML3 7YH, Tel. 01698 454690
E:mail: unison@southlanarkshire.gov.uk
Closing date for applications 28 April 2016.
South Lanarkshire Branch 21 Beckford Street, Hamilton. ML3 0BT
Tel. 01698 454690 


GRADE: UNISON Grade 5 - £34,864 

HOURS: 35 per week flexible

REPORTS TO: Branch Secretary


The key responsibility of the post is in supporting the branch to maintain appropriate levels of representation for members and to establish organising frameworks in the branch. It covers representation work and organising as set out below. However the main focus of the post will be on representation.page1image4224

Work Areas

Individual representation that covers:

Grievances, disciplinaries, local workplace issues, general advice and guidance to members, mentoring and building individual capacity of activists

Collective bargaining at workplace level that includes negotiating of Shift rotas, working patterns, new working arrangements, health and safety issues, training and learning agreements, local facilities agreements

 Organising – assisting the branch in

Recruitment planning and campaigning
Mentoring and training new stewardsCollective Bargaining on local workplace issuesDeveloping systems to support organisingResearch and information to support effective representation and campaigning Co-ordinating campaigns and activities

 Undertakes other duties as required by the grade definition or job profile of this post