Unison official ‘broke rules’

Written By: David Hencke
Published: June 6, 2017 Last modified: June 6, 2017

A  £70,000 a year senior Unison official  has been savagely criticised by a part time judge for breaking union campaigning rules to ensure the re-election of Dave Prentis as general secretary two years ago.

Linda Perks, then London regional secretary, is said by Mary Stacy, to have been “flagrant” in breaking union rules after hearing a secret tape of a meeting she held in work time  during the Prentis campaign attended by 50 paid officials.

“Ms Perks’ tone is not just confident and swaggering in so openly breaking the rules but chilling in its brazenness and demonstration of unchecked power,” the judge said.

Union rules barred officials from campaigning for candidates in work time and also limited their public support for candidates.

The comments come in a ruling  this week which rejected a demand for the rerun of the election by candidates standing against Dave Prentis amid claims of officials breaking the rules and the Electoral Reform Services, which supervised the election, of not acting independently. The judge rejected criticism of ERS.

She also accepted that Dave Prentis knew nothing of Linda Perks’ action and dismissed a complaint that his long standing partner, Liz Snape, broke union rules over the sending of “Team Dave” emails in his support during work time.

It was only because she accepted that Dave Prentis did not know about the action and that the effect of Linda Perks’ actions would not have changed the result that she did not order a rerun of the election.

Her ruling followed a hearing when three other candidates, John Burgess, Heather Wakefield and Roger Bannister challenged the way Dave Prentis was elected as general secretary. A fourth complainant, Jon Rogers, a long standing union member, also challenged the election.

The judge, as an assistant certification officer, upheld the complaint brought by John Burgess against Linda Perks.

The judge accepted the election for the general secretary’s post of the country’s largest public sector union took place in a febrile atmosphere just after Ed Miliband’s resignation as party leader and when Jeremy Corbyn was mounting his successful bid to replace him.

Mr Prentis who had won overwhelming support in previous election was facing a much tougher challenge with a leading union official, Heather Wakefield, standing against him alongside two other candidates.

She said some of the criticism of Heather Wakefield by Prentis supporters amounted to “demonization” and she also criticised the failure of the union to apologise to Jon Rogers for threatening him with a libel action when he complained of electoral malpractice.

But it is the behaviour of Linda Perks and the union’s handling of the issue that is severely criticised.

She was suspended by the president of the union. But the judge noted: “The subsequent leisurely disciplinary proceedings of Ms Perks and outcome do not inspire confidence or serve as a deterrent for future overzealous officers. Some might think the move to National Secretary in Head Office on unspecified strategic projects retaining all pay and benefits represents reward rather than punishment, though she has endured the imposition of a final written warning.”

The judge also criticised the union’s failure to investigate up to 50 London officials who were party to the rule breaking which had the code name “special chocolate biscuits”.

A spokesman for Unison said: “UNISON welcomes the assistant certification officer’s decision to uphold the result of the 2015 general secretary election and reject the call from the complainants that there should be a re-run. The union’s development and organisation committee will be now be considering the ACO’s comments.”

About David Hencke

David Hencke is Tribune's Westminster Correspondent