Yunus Bakhsh, one of the most prominent trade union activists in the NHS, has been sacked by his employer. There needs to be a storm of protest over this outrage, which is an affront to every trade unionist and everyone who believes in justice.
The Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Trust hand-delivered the sacking notice to Yunus’s door on Monday, nearly two years after it had suspended him from work. Yunus has been dismissed as a psychiatric nurse, the job he has performed unblemished for two decades, and has thereby been driven out of activity in the Unison union.
Yunus has served with honour on Unison’s national executive and its health service group executive (winning with an extraordinary 86 percent of the vote in 2006). But these were not his crucial activities.
Activists up and down the land respect him for his speeches to rallying strikers on picket lines, for his tireless campaigning alongside workers at the sharp end, and for lifting the spirits of people who were facing hard times.
Yunus’s most dedicated supporters are found among the low paid porters, catering, and clerical workers who keep the NHS going. And he is also a hero to many other groups of workers outside the NHS for his solidarity work.
It is precisely because Yunus is the polar opposite of the dry bureaucrats who populate the upper reaches of so many unions that we need to support him at this time, when new life is flowing back into the workers’ movement.
The sacking came at the end of a three-week hearing that Yunus was excluded from by illness. The most basic rights – like the right to present your own case when you are accused of serious matters, and the right to directly question your accusers – were wrenched away from him by the trust.
The employer decreed that the disciplinary process would go ahead despite overwhelming evidence from Yunus’s GP and the employer’s occupational health service that he was too ill to attend a hearing.
A mental health trust has thereby signalled that clinical depression is an irrelevance, a passing irritation that can be shrugged off if you are determined enough.
Shame on them, and all those who have gone along with them.
But this latest scandal is no more than a continuation of the treatment Yunus has received from the start.
Yunus was suspended from work in September 2006 on the basis of an anonymous letter. He was allegedly always talking about strikes, and frequently contested the employer – yet this anti-union tirade was then used as an excuse to trawl for further complaints, all of which relate directly to his trade union work.
Think of this precedent. A leading activist is sacked on the basis of an anonymous document. Who is safe if this decision stands?
And there is another very serious matter – the issue of potential racial motives. Yunus, a black activist, has often faced verbal and physical threats from fascists.
His house was daubed with racist graffiti, and his windows smashed. Previously a local British National Party member sent the employer baseless allegations in an effort to get Yunus sacked.
Yunus’s contention that the anonymous letter might be racially motivated has never been treated seriously and has revealed the lack of awareness of the issue inside the Trust. For example, a human relations manager said in one hearing, “I know about racism, it’s what Geordies suffer”.
Eventually Yunus was told he could raise his belief that he was being stereotyped as an aggressive black man at his disciplinary hearing. But that hearing has now gone ahead without him being there to express it.
All of this raises the question of what Yunus’s union is doing about the case.
Thousands of rank and file activists, and many union office-holders have backed Yunus. But it is my opinion that Unison’s leaders have utterly betrayed him. They launched their own attacks on Yunus and suspended him from union office in January 2007.
The Trade Union Certification Officer, the official who presides over union law and procedures, recently ruled that this decision had breached Unison’s own rulebook and must be instantly remedied. Unison had to comply – but then on the same day they suspended Yunus again, and again without going through the proper procedures.
As for Yunus’s allegation that Unison members who had complained about him having a potential racial motivation, Yunus was told that “the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 does not apply to Unison” and that therefore there was no duty to investigate this possibility.
When they assembled a dossier against Yunus, Unison officials included allegations that people who had made complaints against Yunus had suffered anonymous threatening phone calls, break-ins and smashed windows.
These serious criminal allegations, for which there appears to be not a shred of evidence, have been linked to Yunus but have never been sustained in any way. However, they have also never been withdrawn. They remain as a wholly unwarranted stain on his character.
Yunus’s sacking is one of a series of attacks presently taking place across the workers’ movement – some are launched by employers, others by fearful union leaders, some reveal collusion between both. We have to draw a line and say this scandal shall not be allowed to stand.
It is an attack that is based on weakness, not strength. The weakness of an employer that cannot stand scrutiny, and fears of union leaders that the thirst for resistance will get a focus.
Yunus has stood up again and again for workers. Now we have to stand up for him.
What you can do
- Send messages of protest to the trust’s chief executive, c/o firstname.lastname@example.org
- Send messages of support to email@example.com
- Raise the issue in every union branch meeting, and ask your union leader and executive to take action
- Yunus will appeal against his sacking and hopes to be well enough to take part in an Employment Tribunal – which he has to fund himself – in a month’s time. Send donations to Defend Yunus Bakhsh Campaign, c/o 46c Lawe Road, South Shields, Tyne & Wear NE33 2EN. Cheques payable to Defend Yunus Bakhsh Campaign