Victimised Unison union rep and Whipps Cross Hospital worker Charlotte Monro has been reinstated by Barts Health NHS Trust in east London.
This is a major victory for trade unionists and health workers—and a kick in the teeth for Barts Health’s bullying bosses.
Charlotte worked in Whipps Cross as an occupational therapist for 26 years. But bosses sacked her in November 2013 as they were pushing through cuts.
“I spoke out about cuts affecting Whipps Cross stroke unit to Waltham Forest council’s health scrutiny committee,” Charlotte explained to Socialist Worker.
“I also spoke to staff affected by other job losses about the planned changes of which I had been informed as their union rep. Management claimed this ‘failed to respect confidentiality’. But I needed to be able to talk to staff in a reps capacity—any union rep with integrity must consult with members.”
Bosses then drummed up an excuse of past convictions relating to political protests to justify their attack.
While the Employment Tribunal is still to deliver its final ruling, bosses took a hammering during it.
“Evidence clearly showed that I was acting in my trade union capacity,” Charlotte said. “That would mean I was dismissed for undertaking trade union activity, which is against the law. But it was also made clear that it was a case of ‘protected disclosure’, and during the last day of the tribunal they withdrew the challenge to that,” Charlotte said.
These two issues were at the heart of Charlotte’s case—and of bigger significance as the Tories and bosses try to clamp down on trade union rights.
“Employers are increasingly using a ‘failure to respect disclosure’ to go for union reps—Candy Udwin is a case in point,” said Charlotte, referring to victimised PCS union rep Candy Udwin.
“If this action by an employer was to go unchallenged and they were able to treat trade union activity as ‘personal misconduct’, that would be a really dangerous precedent.
“It’s crucial the Trust and the unions work as equals on these issues—not just the employer asserting that something is confidential.”
Her reinstatement comes just as the Care Quality Commission (CQC) slammed Barts Health for running Whipps Cross into the ground and placed the hospital into “special measures”.
The report made clear that a “culture of bullying and harassment” and the “decision to remove 220 posts across the trust and down band several hundred more nursing staff” were to blame.
Management’s austerity drive was due to a ballooning debt from Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deals that caused the trust’s deficit to rocket to £93 million.
Sacking Charlotte was clearly aimed at weakening the union and stifling resistance. Bosses began disciplinary action against Charlotte two weeks before revealing the full extent of the Trust’s debt.
Charlotte said, “It’s crucial that when people speak out or challenge management, they know they aren’t turned on for doing so.”
Charlotte’s reinstatement can strengthen the fightback. “Unison’s legal support and the support I had from my own union branch, the local health campaigns and other unions was really important.
“That’s what gave me the strength to get through, and why people saw the bigger significance of my case.”
Charlotte’s victory should be used to build the resistance against attacks in Barts Health and across the NHS.
“To me, it shows that no matter how difficult it seems to challenge injustice, with support, you can succeed. I hope my case will support other reps in a similar position and give a message that the rights of the union rep must be respected.”