Unison faces court challenge

Written By: David Hencke
Published: December 18, 2016 Last modified: December 18, 2016

The election of general secretary of Unison, Britain’s biggest public sector trade union, is to be challenged at a three day public hearing next week.

All four rival candidates – Heather Wakefield, John Burgess, Jon Rogers and Roger Bannister – have made complaints to the Certification Officer about the conduct of officials during the election of Dave Prentis last year.

The Certification Officer said: “The applicants allege that, during the election period, the Union breached a number of its rules and a paragraph of the General Secretary 2015 Election Procedures as well as section 49 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. This is the full hearing of the complaints following the preliminary hearing held on 6 October 2016.”

According to ACAS the hearing is regarded as unprecedented because it is believed to be the first time that every can­di­date standing against the winner has lodged complaints about the conduct of the election of a general secretary. Dave Prentis won the election by a large majority.

The allegations centre on claims that officials breached union rules by campaigning for “Team Dave” using union resources and in union time. Union officials are expected to remain neutral during an election and not campaign in union time.

Heather Wakefield has alleged that rules were breached when six Unison branches published support for Dave Prentis on their websites during the election.

There are multiple claims about a meeting organised and attended by Unison officials in the Greater London Region which took place at Congress House where it is alleged Unison staff received a briefing on how to campaign for the re-election of Dave Prentis .

There is also a complaint that the union did not fulfillits obligations to ensure that  the Electoral Reform Services, who were independent scrutineers for the election, carried out an independent investigation into the complaints.

And there is an allegation that one official proposed to  officials that they by pass branches that were unsympathetic to Dave Prentis by contacting their employers to see if they could distribute literature supporting Dave Prentis.

The union will be contesting the allegations at the hearing next week.

About David Hencke

David Hencke is Tribune's Westminster Correspondent