Friday, 2 May 2014

Statement on Unison London Regions treatment of NHS activist

I write as a dedicated UNISON activist in the NHS who is facing obstructive and bullying treatment from regional officials, and sometimes from branch officials.

When attempting to organise members to oppose cuts to vital services and try and halt the privatisation of our NHS, I have found my activity called into question or curtailed frequently by officials of the largest union in the public sector, which purports to be defending the NHS.

I am asking UNISON nationally and the NEC to investigate these abuses and ensure that members democratic rights are protected within and without the union, and that they are not
obstructed in their vital work of trying to organise NHS workers to protect the NHS.

My case

I have been an NHS worker and UNISON member since 2009. First as a HCA in Leeds Teaching Hospitals, then as a student nurse and now a qualified nurse at Guy's and St Thomas (GSTT) Hospital.

As a student member I faced obstruction when trying to be active in the GSTT Hospital branch, and faced appalling incidences of bullying behaviour from a London Region Health Official. This began when I was part of a press conference against NHS privatisation outside Barts Hospital in spring 2011 with other NHS activists. Our group included a staff member from the hospital, the head of the Medical Practitioners Union and a cancer patient being treated at the hospital, who were all interveiwed by a Daily Mirror journalist. The official approached us and called us a “rent a mob” and argued we should not be meeting there or holding a press conference without UNISON's official support. Complaints against the official were submitted by the activists following his abusive behaviour. Following this incident I was verbally abused by the same official at a UNISON recruitment stall in St Thomas hospital in front of patients, staff and branch officers. I submitted a complaint to London Region about this treatment, yet this was dismissed by a more senior London Region Official who threatened me with disciplinary action if I brought further complaints against regional officials. I attempted to keep participating in the union branch after this, but my invitation to attend the branch meeting as a student member was withdrawn. After this I withdrew from branch union activity, but continued campaigning against NHS privatisation with other organisations.

Qualifying in August 2012 and securing employment at GSTT I attempted to become a steward with the GSTT branch. I submitted my application to be a steward in October 2012. The Branch Secretary refused to approve me as a steward despite my fulfilling the requirements and being supported by fellow unison members in the workplace. I continued to press the issue and requested a meeting with branch officials. In December 2012 prior to this meeting I was threatened with a Rule I disciplinary investigation and possible expulsion from the branch. I was asked to resign from the union or face expulsion.  I submitted a response to this answering the allegations against me and challenging this bullying behaviour. This received no response from the branch leadership.

In March 2013 I submitted a motion to our AGM criticising a decision by the branch leadership to agree a sickness policy which was detrimental to staff and patients. When I arrived at the AGM at St Thomas Hospital I was told by a regional official that I was under investigation for a breach of Rule I and that I could not attend the AGM. When I asked to remain and put my case to the AGM I was told if I did not leave security would be called to remove me. I left the AGM under duress.

After consulting other unison members I decided to attempt to attend the second AGM at the Guy's hospital site. When I attempted to enter the AGM my way was blocked by the branch secretary who repeatedly told me to "fuck off" and that I had been told I couldn't attend the AGM. After attempting to reason with the branch secretary left. I submitted a complaint to the branch about this action which both violated the rules of the union and was illegal under the Trade Union Relations Act. Following the submission of a complaint to the branch, the branch chair held a meeting with me to discuss the issues and apologised for their actions and said I could attend AGMs in future. I requested an apology from the branch secretary for his behaviour but none was given.

During all this time I was active in campaigns to defend NHS services against the government's austerity plans. I campaigned against the Health and Social Care Bill, organised student nurses to attend protests and supported the 2011 pensions dispute, joining staff on the picket line at St Thomas hospital. Living in South London, I supported the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, helping leaflet the hospital and encouraging Guy's and St Thomas Staff to attend demonstrations and protests. In 2013, following my exclusion from the AGM I stood for election to the UNISON NEC as one of the Health Group candidates. During this time I helped found the 4:1 Campaign for Mandatory Minimum staffing levels in the NHS. I have been exchanging emails with Gail Adams, Head of Nursing in UNISON for the last 9 months regarding gaining UNISON's support for the 4:1 campaign. All of my actions have been aimed towards politicising and organising UNISON members to defend the NHS, and attempting to win UNISON's official support for campaigns and protests which I regard as essential to saving the NHS.

In December 2013 I resubmitted my application to be a steward. 5 days after submitting my application I was sent a letter from another Regional Official informing me they had cancelled my membership of UNISON, stating they were assuming I had resigned as they had found evidence I joined another union. I had submitted no letter of resignation nor given any verbal instruction to do so. Regional Officials do not have the power to cancel members membership of the union. This was again a breach of the union's rules and the Trade Union Relations Act.

I had temporarily joined UNITE when I was originally threatened with expulsion in December 2012, but left them in the summer of 2013. I joined UNITE as I felt I needed protection at work and had lost faith in UNISON's branch officials willingness to defend me if I was victimised by management for my activism.

In January I received a letter and cheque from UNISON London Region giving me a refund of my subscriptions, and stating again they had cancelled my membership for joining another union. There is no rule prohibiting UNISON members from being members of other unions, and this is quite common practice, especially in the health service where many employees are members of a trade union as well as as trade specific union or professional body like the Royal College of Nurses or Chartered Society of Physiotherapists. This action was both against the rules of the union, and a misuse of union funds. Union officials do not have the right to, nor should they, refund members subscriptions.

As they have stopped taking my subscriptions by direct debit I have been sending cheques to the regional office to pay my subscriptions. None of these have been cashed.

I attended UNISON Health Conference from April 14-16th to lobby the union to support the 4:1 Campaign. I was denied entry as a member and forced to have my entry approved by a regional official as a Visitor Non-Member.

I have submitted a complaint to UNISON regarding the regional officials behaviour, but have little hope of it being successful. Regional officials in London have long ruled with impunity, witch-hunting activists and shutting down dissident branches which threaten their power, with no criticism from the union leadership.

I am taking this matter to the Certification Officer as I am not confident that the Regional Office, who have been instrumental in acting against me, can possibly deal with the matter fairly. However, I continue to hope that UNISON will resolve this matter and end this campaign of victimisation, taking  action against those responsible and ensuring the democratic rights of lay members to participate in the union are upheld.

In the meantime I have rejoined UNITE as I need the protection of a union in my workplace. I will continue to assert my right to membership of UNISON, and will review my UNITE membership if and when UNISON's leadership resolves this matter and reinstitutes my membership. 

You can complain about my treatment to:
Dave Prentis Unison General Secretsry
Christine McAnea Unison Head of Health
Gail Adams Head of Nursing
Linda Perks London Region Unison
Chris Remington London Region Unison

May 2014


  1. Shocked... but given that Unison is currently running recruitment ads on TV, that don't even mention that Unison is a Trade Union, I shouldn't be surprised at all. Good luck with your campaign!

  2. Your case brings so many memories back for me. I am (as far as I am aware) the only non fascist that has had to take UNISON to court in order to get to join. In fact, when the case was at court (to consider whether I had a case) i faced 3 unison paid lawyers who opposed me joining. I represented myself. When the chair ruled in my favour stating that I had a legitimate case to pursue he asked me if I wanted to claim damages. To my regret I said no as I only wanted to re-join. All this happened after I had served many years as Vice-chair of the National Nursing Sector Committee (I know Gail well) and also served as assistant regional Convenor of West Midland, and chair of the Regional health committee. Basically my life went downhill after I exposed significant financial corruption.

  3. Rediculous behaviour on their part. I'm a member of Unison and the RCN though after seeing this I think I'll be cancelling one of those memberships and I can tell you which one it ain't that's for sure. Awful, So sorry you've had to go through this

  4. I know this might not be something you want to do, given that there is safety in numbers, solidarity etc...but have you considered joining and organising for another trade union?

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  6. I wrote this in November last year in response to an invite to a London UNISIN Left meeting. I never got a reply and as far as I am aware (I take no interest in UNISON matters anymore,) the same despicable shower remain in control.

    I have been a UNISON member for many years and NALGO before that, but never until comparatively recently a rep or an activist. I was in Hackney from 1988 until 2003. During that time colleagues and friends of mine were voted into Branch positions and they turned it around from being an ineffective, corrupt clique to a strong campaigning Branch with grass roots members interests centre stage. It was then for the first time that I witnessed the corrupt, political bullying tactics of the London Region officers towards principled and committed activists and I could not believe what I was seeing. Despite overwhelming support from the members our officers got more grief from our own union than the did from the employer who was driving through massive cuts at the time. Members were having their jobs deleted on maternity leave yet the Region failed to support them. Instead I recall the Branch Secretary at the time was threatened with disciplinary action for 'abusing the Council's email system' for sending an email out to all members who had been treated in thus way so we could support them. No support I recall from region.

    The Branch organised and built a substantial campaign where many of us who were dismissed from our existing contracts and signed new ones under duress took these dismissals to the Employment Tribunal. No support from our union so we had to use members own legal insurances policies to get legal support and in the end the Branch Secretary had to conduct the case himself which went on for nearly a week - and a great job he made of it too.

    When I moved jobs and went to Westminster Council in 2003 I was inspired by the efforts of the Hackney Branch and decided to become a steward myself and so got more involved in the Union and had contact with other reps elsewhere in London. It was then that I realised that what I had witnessed at Hackney was the rule of thumb throughout the whole of London, both in the local government sector and health sector, what I came to refer to as the 'Jimmy Saville' scenario of the union movement - everyone knows what's going on but no one has the guts to do anything about it. Disillusioned members, often let down personally by this shower despite the honourable efforts of dedicated local activists and Branch Officers , leave in droves. The activists themselves worn down and bullied relentlessly.

    When Unison suddenly came out in support of Jeremy Corbyn I couldn't believe my ears because the thing that most of those who fell foul of the regional mafia had in common (including myself in a small way) was that they shared many of the principles and outlook that is now associated with the movement that has arisen out of Corbyn's leadership campaign and acted on them in good faith.

    If there really has been a sea change in Unison then the proof of the pudding must be in the eating. Those who have consistently behaved in the way I have described - and we all know who they are - must be held to account for their behaviour. If they are employees of the union they should be shown the door. We owe nothing less to the many dedicated people who fought on despite great personal cost in some cases I am aware of to themselves for no other reason than they believed that a union was there to represent and be led by its membership.

    Rob Sale
    Unison Member (Retired)