A long-standing Unite branch secretary has been subject to an alleged sustained campaign of bullying and discrimination by Conservative-controlled Bromley council, says Unite.
Papers were served on the council today (March 31) by Unite legal services’ panel solicitors Thompsons to answer the case that grandmother Kath Smith, branch secretary since 2011, was subject to concerted victimisation as she tried to carry out her legitimate trade union activities, while the authority embarked on a mass privatisation campaign.
The employment tribunal to hear the case is expected in the summer.
The case centres on acts of ongoing trade union victimisation. Examples include refusing Ms Smith the right to stand at departmental elections – something she has done since the role was introduced a decade ago.
She was allegedly repeatedly refused the right to time off in lieu when she was required to represent members on non-working days. Failure to fix her phone and computer has prevented her from contacting and assisting members.
Unite believes that Smith’s right to take reasonable paid time-off to carry out trade union duties and training in aspects of industrial relations may have been breached – this has happened on numerous occasions since the council removed full-time trade union facility time in June 2015 on the basis of alleged cost saving, despite Unite offering to pay for this.
Smith’s right to take reasonable unpaid time-off to carry out trade union activities has also allegedly been breached – again on numerous occasions since facility time was removed.
Unite said that these allegations have to be seen in the context that the council is fully committed to becoming a commissioning council and reducing the number of council employees from 4,000 to 300 – despite having £320m in reserves.
The council’s latest target is the privatisation of 14 libraries, replacing staff with unpaid volunteers in six libraries and handing eight to a private company – the council is refusing to name the bidders for this contract.
The volunteers are being organised by Community Links Bromley and Unite activists will be staging the latest protest outside the company’s headquarters at Community House, South Street, Bromley BR1 1RH tomorrow (April 1) between 9.30 and 10.30.
“What we are witnessing is a sustained campaign of victimisation against Kath Smith, who has worked for the library service since 1997, for her legitimate trade union activities,” said Unite regional officer Onay Kasab.
“We believe that Kath has been singled out because of her brave stance against the council’s mass privatisation campaign which has already seen the parks service being outsourced,” he noted.“Libraries are next on the ‘hit’ list.
“Unite is strongly committed, not only to defending our branch secretary, but our members working for the council and, more widely, the much-valued public services that the people of Bromley rely on.
“We know that Community Links Bromley is working with the council to introduce volunteers at libraries,” Kasab went on to say. “This has elicited a harsh response from the council – including attacks on our branch secretary. The protests will now be developed to be bigger and even more effective – for instance, we will look at publicity stunts like authors doing outdoor book readings.
“We also intend to contact the not for profit organisations affiliated to the company in question and prepare protests outside their buildings too,” he argued. “Further dates will be set for industrial action to coincide with the protests.”
Taking a stand for members
Unite legal officer Nicky Marcus said that the union’s legal services will do all that has to be done to support Smith and to prevent victimisation of Unite representatives.
“All of our members, but most particularly our representatives, should understand the level of support that Unite legal services will offer when our members and representatives come under attack for carrying out their normal trade union activities,” she said.
What is happening in Bromley comes against the backdrop of a Fair Deal For Local Government campaign by Unite’s London and Eastern region which has almost 300,000 members. The campaign is aimed against privatisation and austerity in local government.
The campaign is a set of proposals that Unite is putting to councils in the region. It is a procurement strategy to ensure that quality services are maintained and that there is no ‘race to the bottom’ for pay and conditions post any transfer.
Find out more about the campaign here.