Lobby of PCS NEC 2 December 2014

Two former PCS reps who were dismissed for their trade union activities, John Pearson and Sofia Azam are calling for support at their joint lobby / demo outside PCS HQ, 160 Falcon Road, London. SW11 2BR, (5 minutes from Clapham Junction train station), from 12.30 p.m. on Tuesday 2 December 2014. This is to coincide with the start of the monthly meeting of the union’s National Executive Committee (NEC).

The NEC is due to receive reports from the union’s National Disputes Committee, which has reiterated refusal of official support for John despite his victory in a claim of automatically unfair dismissal on the grounds of union activities at the Employment Tribunal. The same committee has declined an application from Sofia for support for an appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal, in a case which has very substantial similarities to John’s successful case. John had been represented by a private solicitor after union officials initially refused support on the grounds that his case supposedly had no reasonable prospect of success, whilst Sofia had been represented by the union’s solicitors but had been unsuccessful at the first tier Tribunal.

In a letter to John dated 24 November, PCS General Secretary, Mark Serwotka reports a decision of the union’s National Disputes Committee, which comprises the most senior union officers, to decline John’s request, made 3 months earlier, for the union to pay his legal expenses, reinstate his union membership and support him in securing reinstatement to his job, following his Tribunal win. Bro. Serwotka said that the reason was that John had not followed the advice of the full time official in defending himself against the employer’s actions.

John and Sofia say,

“We will have placards, fluorescent jackets, a leaflet and a press release. We will send a request to NEC members in advance, to come out and talk to us, instead of just accepting what they are spoon fed by General Secretary, Mark Serwotka and the union’s full time officials. We were both sacked for directly carrying out duties as union branch officers, on the instructions of our Branch Executive Committees. John sent to union members details of the information on proposed redundancies that his employer was statutorily obliged to supply to the union for the purposes of consultation. Sofia was sacked for sending details of the grading of posts following a staffing restructure. In both cases, the employers tried to block union involvement by improperly attaching a ‘confidential’ stamp to industrial relations data which the union members affected had a right and an interest in being presented to them by their elected union representatives.

“After hearing 3 days of sworn evidence, including testimony from 5 of John’s witnesses and 3 of the employer’s witnesses, the Tribunal decided that John was carrying out a legitimate union duty and, crucially, that the information, “provided for consultation purposes, could not be properly considered to be confidential”. Had the union instructed its solicitors to fight Sofia’s Tribunal case on the same basis, she would in all probability have won. Instead, they fought Sofia’s case on the grounds that she was contritious for having mistakenly circulated the material. In John’s case, the union full time official (FTO) would not contest the employer’s assertion that it had a right to decide what information supplied to the union is or is not ‘confidential’. The FTO wanted to accompany John to disciplinary hearings to plead for clemency. John’s approach has been proven to have been absolutely correct. His dismissal was unlawful because, despite all the attacks that have been made on union organisation, there is still legal protection against suffering dismissal, or detriment short of dismissal, for carrying out union activities.

“PCS is a union which is led by left-wingers, including members of the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party. It used to have a perspective of rank and file control. The notion that the union will only represent elected officers and reps who agree with the full time officer’s advice flies in the face of such a perspective. The contrasting cases of John and Sofia show which approach is correct.

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