A crucial time is coming for two high profile health workers who have been victimised by their employers for their trade union activities.
Unison joint branch secretary Yunus Bakhsh, who has been suspended from his job as a psychiatric nurse for the past 18 months, will bring his case against Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS trust to an employment tribunal on Monday.
The tribunal is expected to hear claims that employers suspended Yunus after he revealed their plans to cut services and spoke out against rises in directors’ pay and perks.
Yunus is set to present evidence that the trust had long called for his removal from senior union positions because of the tough stand he takes in defence of his members and the principles behind the NHS.
Health campaigners in Manchester are continuing to build for a national lobby of parliament in defence of Karen Reissmann, set to take place on Wednesday 7 May.
Karen was sacked in November last year after she spoke out in a magazine interview about cuts and privatisation at the mental health trust where she has worked for the past 25 years.
The lobby in May has been called by Karen’s Unison union. It will culminate in a rally in parliament hosted by Karen’s MP Tony Lloyd.
Karen’s sacking provoked a massive response – including one of the biggest strikes in the NHS for many years. The lobby is expected to see supporters from across Britain coming to London to demand that public sector trade unionists have the right to speak out.
In an extraordinary turn of events both Karen and Yunus have been blocked from standing for re-elections to Unison’s health executive.
Karen has been barred because it has been judged that she was not a health worker for three months in advance of the election. The nomination period coincided with a period after she had been sacked and while her colleagues were on strike demanding her reinstatement. Rightly, Karen remained on the picket lines until the strike was suspended in December last year, before registering as an agency nurse.
Unison leaders could have granted Karen a special dispensation to ensure that she was eligible to stand for office. However it became clear last week that they did not exercise this right.
The same Unison leaders say that Yunus is ineligible due to him being suspended from office pending investigation.
Yunus has not had any complaint against him upheld and Unison’s rules do not stipulate such a sanction.
Many Unison activists see the moves to prevent Yunus and Karen re-standing as part of a general attack on the left.
Another left candidate for the health executive, Chrissie Gardner, was also ruled ineligible last week – despite fulfilling all the normal nomination requirements.
Unison leaders have become increasingly worried about the strength of the left inside the union – and are particularly fearful of the growing anger among trade unionists with the Labour government.
The leadership’s attempts to prevent the left gaining ground through bureaucratic means are a reflection of their desperation, not of their strength.
Already many supporters of both Karen and Yunus have pledged to raise their cases strongly at Unison’s forthcoming health workers’ conference.
Supporters of Yunus Bakhsh are meeting to show solidarity on the first day of his tribunal – Monday 31 March, 9am, Employment Tribunals office, Quayside House, 110 Quayside, Newcastle NE1