Leaders of the Unison union were delivered two shattering blows last week when the trade union certification officer ruled that a crackdown on two of the union’s best known left wingers broke the union’s own rules – and in one case even broke the law.
The cases concern Tony Staunton, who was the branch secretary of Plymouth City Unison until his expulsion from the union last year, and Yunus Bakhsh, the joint branch secretary of Unison’s North of Tyne health branch.
In both cases Unison’s leadership was found to have used the union’s disciplinary code as a means of preventing the pair from exercising their democratic rights.
In Tony Staunton’s case the certification officer said that Unison had behaved illegally when it prevented him from standing for election to the union’s national executive.
In the case brought by Yunus against Unison, the certification officer found that the union had breached its own rules by suspending him from his elected positions, and preventing him from standing for re-election to the union’s health executive.
The officer issued an enforcement order that instructs the union to “forthwith withdraw the suspension imposed on the claimant”.
In the 14-month period in which Yunus has been suspended from union office both he, and the members he represents, have suffered enormously. Yunus has been put through hell in his bid to clear his name, and the suspension meant that he was unable to fight his corner inside the union.
Rather than apologise for their wrongful act, Unison first lifted the suspension, but then charged Yunus with dozens of offences and re-suspended him later the same day.
Yunus’s battle started in 2006 – as Unison was attempting to merge its three health branches in the Newcastle area.
The new super branch would be a significant force in the union and Yunus, who was the high profile branch secretary of the largest of the old branches, was widely expected to win election as its secretary.
During the merger negotiations an anonymous letter was sent to Yunus’s employer – allegedly from a union rep. The trust used this as a pretext to suspend Yunus from work while conducting a “fishing exercise” in which it sought evidence to back up claims made in the letter.
In January 2007 the union suspended Yunus from all his elected positions after receiving a complaint from a small number of those attending the first meeting of the super branch.
Throughout the year and a half of campaigning, Yunus and his supporters have argued that the right wing of Unison has come together with management to first silence, and then remove an extremely effective trade unionist.
As a result of his prolonged suspension Yunus’s health has suffered. He has been declared “unfit to work” by his GP, and his medical condition has been acknowledged by his NHS trust’s occupational health department – both say that Yunus needs time to recover.
Nevertheless management at Northumbria, Tyne and Wear NHS trust are preparing to restart their disciplinary hearings against Yunus early in June, thereby putting him under enormous strain.
It appears that management’s case will rely on testimony from those who made the complaint to Unison, and that some of those witnesses will appear anonymously – and will not be subject to cross examination.
This intention to proceed, even if Yunus is not well enough to attend, goes against guidelines issued by the Faculty of Occupational Medicine and The Royal College of General Practitioners.
Should the trust decide to continue regardless, Yunus could find that he is sacked from his job as a psychiatric nurse after more than two decades of service.
This week Yunus won part of his fight for justice and effective trade unionism. It was a victory that the right wing in Unison could not allow to stand.
It is vital that support for Yunus continues to pour in as he faces the battles ahead.
Send messages demanding Yunus’s hearing is called off to the acting chief of Northumbria, Tyne and Wear NHS trust at firstname.lastname@example.org
An employment tribunal, in which Yunus will allege that his suspension from work is a direct result of his trade union activities, is due to be heard shortly.
Yunus has been forced to pay for his own legal representation.
Contact the Defend Yunus Bakhsh campaign to make a donation at email@example.com