Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The UNISON NEC results - in London and beyond

I am particularly pleased that Sean Fox has won the seat which I have held for the past fourteen years in the Greater London Region, and that my comrades Sonya Howard and Helen Davies have held their seats, so that London has elected three out of four left wingers (with the left winning once more in every contested seat).

At a time when we have an opportunity for UNISON to cleanse the Augean stables at Congress House it is good to see that UNISON members have elected (and re-elected) democrats and socialists who are committed to that task to represent the Region on the NEC.

Looking at the results nationally I am sorry to see the departure from the NEC of my friends and comrades Jonathan Dunning, Adrian Kennett, Sarah Littlewood and Dave Auger all of whom have served our trade union with distinction during their tenure on its ruling body.

However, I am encouraged to see that there are more candidates elected from the democratic left than ever before – indeed the only thing that holds those of us who believe in effective and democratic trade unions back from being in the majority is that we simply don’t stand enough candidates.

Those who determine the actions of our trade union at a national level have, once more, an opportunity to reach out to and include their critical friends on the left and I would like to think that they will take this opportunity. I will not, however, hold my breath. Some people are just so easily upset.

The indications are that the turnout in the elections continues to decline and this is something to which the incoming NEC must turn its attention, as they will have to consider the recommendations made by the Assistant Certification Officer in relation to the future of our democracy (our response to which will be the first test of the incoming NEC next month). Our trade union is not thriving and change is overdue.

"Rule Book Rogers" demonised and exposed?

Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris National Secretary) will be aware that I am the very soul of modesty and am self-effacing almost to the point of vanishing.

It is therefore very difficult for me to have to share with you certain extracts from the decision of the Assistant Certification Officer issued today to the parties to the litigation (to which I shall post a link once it is published online).

Please therefore treat me gently as I do so.

At paragraph 37 the ACO notes (with perspicacity which I can only applaud) that “Mr Rogers in particular was known as an extremely well-informed expert and erudite scholar of the Union’s rules, whose judgment in this field were highly respected throughout the Union.” (a footnote records my nickname of “Rule Book Rogers”.) (meaning that I have now achieved my purpose in life and having become a footnote to a decision of the Certification Officer will one day be able to die happily, though not perhaps as soon as some in UNISON might wish).

At paragraph 117 the ACO describes this little blog which you are now reading, in relation to a post from October 2015, as “influential” (this is in the context of a discussion of how it was that revised guidance to nominating bodies came to be issued in the middle of an election campaign – a topic to which I will return in a further post because the evidence which came out in the hearing is instructive in understanding the far greater influence exercised by what came to be known as “Team Dave”).

Whether or not this blog influences anyone, the ACO notes, at paragraph 197, the various complaints which I made on 1 December 2015 when I became aware of the meeting which had taken place at Congress House on 21 October 2015 (to which I did refer here) and further notes that this led to the decision of Assistant General Secretary Bronwyn McKenna (described as “brave” by the ACO for reasons explained in the decision) to suspend the Greater London Regional Secretary.

At paragraph 203, the ACO comments on the terms of reference given to Assistant General Secretary, Roger McKenzie, noting that the emphasis in those terms of reference is on “the person who had made the allegation – namely Mr Rogers – which (she goes on to say) does not sit easily with the assertion that people were encouraged to come forward as witnesses and reminded of the whistleblowing protection: surely the maker of the complaint is less relevant than whether the complaint has merit? It demonised and exposed Mr Rogers. It was also inaccurate as two other NEC members had by then made identical complaints and Mr Rogers was not therefore a lone voice.” This is indeed true as my fellow NEC members, friends and comrades, Sonya Howard and Helen Davies were co-complainants from the start.

The ACO notes (at paragraph 214) that the result of the General Secretary election was declared on 17 December 2015. The turnout was a miserable 9.8% but Dave Prentis won a convincing victory (even if far less impressive than in previous elections) with 66,155 votes to 35,433 for Heather Wakefield, 16,853 for Roger Bannister and 15,573 for John Burgess.

At paragraph 218 of her decision the ACO notes that on the same date as the results were declared an email was issued by UNISON’s then President, which she goes on to describe, in the following paragraph, as “quite an extraordinary email”. The email (which was subsequently circulated on behalf of the Regional Convenor, by staff in the Regional Office, to every branch in London) is worth quoting in full;

“Dear Colleague

As you know a number of serious allegations have been made against our union in London.

The complaints are being investigated.

Whilst it is not our practice to comment on an ongoing investigation on this occasion we believe there is one aspect that warrants public disclosure.  This can be done without compromising the rights of those involved in this matter.

The complaint presented by Jon Rogers relies heavily on an anonymous recording.  Given the seriousness of this tape the union commissioned an independent forensic report of the recording.  The Presidential Team and the Trustees of the union now have the full report from the Audio Forensic Service.

The forensic analysis was undertaken by an accredited audio specialist and the company is used by the High Court for audio evidence.

The report clearly states that “the probability of tampering is exceptionally high”.  On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high), the Independent Expert rates the tape as a 5/5.

The results have been passed to the Investigating Officer and the ERS and as the Presidential Team and Trustees we are also asking for a formal investigation of the providence of the recording.

Please share as appropriate.


The ACO, at paragraph 220 describes this email as “a classic example of an attempt by the victors to write the history (regardless of accuracy) and denigrate those whom they see as their vanquished adversaries.” She goes on to note, in the following paragraph, that “it is unsurprising that no witnesses came forward to Mr McKenzie’s investigation after the email had been sent. The final sentence of the email encourages the email to be forwarded as widely as possible. Just the day before Mr Rogers had been assisting the investigation and encouraging people with relevant evidence to come forward to Mr McKenzie.”

At paragraph 222 the ACO describes the naming of your humble blogger as “startling” and observes that it had the “no doubt desired effect” of undermining the person so named.

She also quotes from an email sent to me as a result of the Presidential email be an intemperate individual whom I shall not name (but will observe that I really hope he is not elected to our National Executive Council to represent the Greater London Region when the results are declared tomorrow).

In the following paragraph the ACO notes that on that same date your blogger received correspondence from a firm of lawyers instructed to issue a threat of libel proceedings by an individual.

I was not the party who disclosed information about this matter in the course of the proceedings before the Certification Officer and would never have revealed this had it not now been included in a public legal judgment as a result of disclosures by other parties.

I say no more than that you will be able to read paragraph 223 for yourself when it is published on the website of the Certification Officer.

I have issued a public apology to Dave Prentis and I stand by that apology (as you will see the ACO notes when you read paragraph 223). You can also see from paragraph 231 that the ACO does not find that the General Secretary knew of the breaches of Rule committed by his supporters, including the (then) Greater London Regional Secretary.

At paragraph 297 the ACO, having rightly criticised the “demonization” of my fellow complainant Heather Wakefield by our trade union, goes on to criticise the “attempted humiliation of Mr Rogers and the denouncement of him for having brought the tape of the 21 October meeting to the attention of ERS and the extraordinary email from the President on 17 December on the day of the Election result.”

This is the point at which the ACO kindly implies that perhaps your blogger deserves an apology, or at least some acknowledgement of having brought electoral malpractice to light (as I blogged previously).

This brings me to the point of this post.

I have shared here with you these extracts from the decision of the ACO as they relate to myself because I want to make the point that it is necessary, in fighting for democracy in our movement, sometimes to expose oneself to criticism and attack.

UNISON may be celebrating the fact that an almost impossible outcome of the Certification Officer complaints did not come to pass but, as a complainant I want trade unionists who read this blog to know that I am smiling.

The “attempted humiliation of Mr Rogers” failed.

Better luck next time. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

The implications of the Certification Officer decision in UNISON's Greater London Region

UNISON has commented on the outcome of the various complaints made to the Certification Officer by several complainants (including your blogger).

The Union welcomes the decision of the ACO (Assistant Certification Officer) to “uphold the result of the 2015 general secretary election and reject the call from the complainants for a rerun”.

To describe the decision in such terms could generously be described as somewhat misleading. It is true that the ACO refused to make an enforcement order that the election be rerun. That outcome was never likely.

UNISON ought to offer our members a full and honest account of the decision – and it is quite right that part of that should be to report that no enforcement order was made. It is equally true that the ACO refused to make many of the particular declarations sought by the various complainants.

She did, however, make a declaration that our trade union breached our own Rules in that the Union’s “funds, property and resources were impermissibly used to campaign for a particular candidate.” That is a very important critical declaration and one which UNISON should treat with respect and from which it should seek to learn.

I shall comment on various aspects of this decision, and consider which of the many documents released for the proceedings to publish, over the coming weeks. From my point of view, as a member of UNISON’s National Executive Council (NEC) representing the Greater London Region I am particularly concerned that UNISON members in that Region should be fully informed of important findings of fact concerning the conduct of those officials charged with management responsibility for the Region.

Given the hasty and partial (in every sense) public statement on our website today I think that I need to do something about that.

The ACO’s decision is particularly scathing in its assessment of the meeting of all Greater London Regional Staff held at Congress House at 2pm 21 October 2015 (about which you may well first have read here) where, the ACO says in paragraph 3(2) of her decision; “during work time the Regional Secretary of the London Region openly campaigned for Mr Prentis re-election for General Secretary and directed her staff to campaign for Mr Prentis during working time, and was assisted and supported by her Regional Management Team.”

Of the transcript of that meeting, which was accepted as accurate by UNISON, the ACO says, in paragraph 154, “No matter how many times one re-reads the transcript, the shock does not diminish. It is flagrant: Ms Perks’ tone is not just confident and swaggering in so openly breaking the rules, but chilling in its brazenness and demonstration of unchecked power.”

Commenting upon the Union’s disciplinary investigation (conducted by Assistant General Secretary Roger McKenzie) the ACO returns to the theme of the involvement of the Regional Management Team (RMT) observing, at paragraph 208, that “the RMT in particular have covered up for Ms Perks. It is preposterous to assert, as they each do in mantra fashion, that the meeting took place in non-work time. To his credit, Mr McKenzie soon saw through their disingenuity. He does not however draw the obvious and natural inference or conclusion from this fact – that the RMT were also directly involved in breach of the rules and have sought to collude with Ms Perks in the over up in their apparent dissembling to him in their interviews.”

It is fair to say that UNISON did not seek to defend the conduct of the former London Regional Secretary at the hearing. On the contrary, UNISON did all it could to distance itself from her gross misconduct, arguing that the Union could not be held to be vicariously liable for what she had done.

The ACO is dismissive of this attempt, finding, in paragraph 258, that “the Union is responsible for all the actions of its Regional Secretary that I have found were in breach of the Election Procedures and the Rules.”

The ACO points out that the Regional Secretary was a very senior employee and that “she and her RMT engaged in deliberate breaches… …she misused the position entrusted to her, which has injured the members of UNISON in that there has been unfairness in the General Secretary election as well as undermining the standing of the Union in the eyes of the public.”

In the preceding paragraph the ACO also comments on what she sees as the “remarkable clemency and lenience” of the disciplinary sanction imposed upon the former Regional Secretary who received a final written warning and disciplinary transfer (without loss of pay) for “her actions which have done such immeasurable damage to the Union’s reputation.”

The ACO returns to this theme in paragraph 295 where she is critical of the “leisurely disciplinary proceedings of Ms Perks and outcome (which) do not inspire confidence or serve as a deterrent to future over zealous paid officials. Some might think the move to National Secretary in Head Office on unspecified strategic projects retaining all pay and benefits represents reward rather than punishment, although she has endured the imposition of a final written warning.”

In the following paragraph the ACO tackles “the failure to address the involvement of the whole of the London RMT which was explicit and apparent from the tape of the 21 October meeting” which she describes as “very troubling” commenting further that “the collusion of the Greater London RMT was deliberately ignored by the Union and no explanation for the failure to address it has been given.”

One month from now I shall cease, after fourteen years, to be a member of the UNISON NEC. It will fall to the incoming NEC to sort out the mess that is UNISON’s Greater London Regional office, wherein a culture in which the meeting of 21 October 2015 was possible has yet to be changed.

There is no possibility that UNISON will achieve its potential in our capital city whilst the Regional Office remains mired in a culture that is deferential to authority (whether or not properly exercised) and hostile to critical thought. If the national leadership of UNISON (lay and full-time) have the courage and confidence to take further decisive action UNISON members in London could have the trade union to which they are entitled.

Our Regional Committee and Regional Council officers are also challenged to accept the responsibilities which come with adulthood and to assert the democratic authority of elected lay members over the direction of paid officials. Reading and reflecting upon the ACO decision in its entirety once it is published will be a good start.

Whilst I regret that it was necessary for me to complain outside of our movement about the evident malpractice which was brought to my attention I am quite convinced that the best thing that I have done for UNISON members in Greater London has been to play a role in opening up this possibility for change.

I relinquish my role in Greater London UNISON knowing that, whatever else may or may not change there will be a little less confident swaggering and chilling brazenness in those parts of Congress House rented by UNISON than once there was.

Electoral malpractice in UNISON?

Contrary to recent information that the decision would be delayed, today the parties to the recent Certification Officer hearing concerning the 2015 UNISON General Secretary election received the decision of the Assistant Certification Officer.

The decision – with its appendices – runs to 114 pages and I won’t blog any comprehensive comments on the basis of a first reading of a decision which will in any event be available in full on the Certification Officer website very soon.

UNISON has issued a statement welcoming the fact that the Assistant Certification Officer has not ordered that the election be rerun.

This extreme outcome was never likely and a focus on that one issue could be seen as an attempt to distract from the significant criticisms of the conduct of the Union (and some senior officials) made in the decision.

The Assistant Certification Officer, in a balanced decision, refuses to make some declarations sought by the complainants but does make a legal declaration that UNISON breached its rules by allowing UNISON resources to be used to campaign for the incumbent candidate.

UNISON members can call by here online soon for more considered comment (since this blog is described as “influential” in the decision it would be churlish not to provide such comment) as well as going to the Certification Officer website.

I will share one sentence from the decision now though.

“No apology has been given to Mr Rogers or acknowledgement of the important role he has played in bringing electoral malpractice into the light.”

UNISON knows how to contact your blogger and can send that apology at any time.