Socialist Worker

Senior Unison officials accused of 'deceit' and 'subterfuge' during general secretary election, hearing told

by Raymie Kiernan
Issue No. 2544

Senior Unison union officials are accused of corrupt practices

Senior Unison union officials are accused of 'corrupt practices'


Did former Unison Greater London union regional secretary Linda Perks hijack an official union meeting to influence an election? And if so were her actions evidence of a more systematic conspiracy?

These were the key issues in the arguments heard at a final Certification Officer hearing on Wednesday of last week.

The hearing was into alleged widespread malpractice in the 2015 Unison general secretary election.

An unprecedented number of complaints were made to the election returning officer after Dave Prentis won his fourth term as general secretary.

Over half of those centred on a meeting of paid union officials in October 2015.

A secret recording of that meeting exposed how—during work time, and in the presence of other very senior London regional officials—Perks directed staff to work for Prentis’ re-election.

Unison insisted it was not responsible for the actions of its most senior official, in the union’s largest region, breaking election rules to campaign for Prentis.

His challengers—Roger Bannister, John Burgess and Heather Wakefield, and another union member Jon Rogers—all brought complaints before the Certification Officer.

Breaches

They argued that the recording, emails from an assistant general secretary to senior Unison officials in every region urging them to campaign for Prentis, and multiple breaches of rules add up to more than just one rogue official.

The context of the election—one that was hotly contested at a time of dwindling member participation—was also argued as a significant factor for the judge to consider.

The hearing heard closing arguments following three days of evidence last December that scrutinised the actions of the group of very senior officials known as “Team Dave”.

The case against them is that they abused their positions in the union, treated democracy with contempt, broke rules to get Prentis re-elected and then protected him from any fallout.

The hearing has heard evidence that Team Dave emails show “a quite shocking level of deceit, subterfuge and rule-breaching by a group of paid officials who occupied the highest positions in Unison”.

It was questioned why, when Perks was caught in the act alongside the regional management team, the union’s national management team decided only Perks should be disciplined.

And it was noted that after investigating what was argued to be a staffing matter, not an election breach, Perks was transferred to another job at the same grade.

Corrupt

In their papers for the case, Burgess and other accused Team Dave of “corrupt practices”.

At no point have the other London officials faced sanction nor has Prentis’ knowledge of all of this ever been questioned. Each step of the way the people responsible for making these crucial decisions were members of Team Dave.

Despite there being no appeal procedure to do so, advice from the returning officer—Electoral Reform Services (ERS)—was overturned after the intervention of Team Dave.

Both very experienced Unison and ERS staff members responsible for overseeing the election were overruled.

ERS’ role both as independent scrutineer and returning officer was questioned. The almost £1 million the firm received for its services was noted more than once.

The union insists that for the judge to order a re-run of the election would be a disproportionate response as even without London region votes Prentis would still have topped the poll.

But a re-run is precisely what the complainants argue can be the only remedy, faced with the full picture and the cumulative effect of rule breaches and the actions of Team Dave.

All parties now await the ruling of the Certification Officer.


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