Unite hails victory in Bromley council rep victimisation case

Howard Beckett

A union rep at Bromley council has won her employment tribunal (ET) case which found she was victimised for trade union activities, Unite, the country’s largest union, has announced. 

Unite Legal Services lodged claims against the Conservative-controlled council’s treatment of Kathy Smith, a council employee and Unite branch secretary, who firmly opposed the council’s mass privatisation agenda. Council bosses removed her full-time trade union facility time in June 2015, which the tribunal found was ‘not only about cost or finances’ but that there was a wider issue at play ‘namely the way in which the [Council] viewed the unions’. 

Unite assistant general secretary for legal services Howard Beckett today (Monday 6 November) hailed the result as ‘a great victory for the rights of trade union reps which sends out a strong signal to other local authorities’. 

The ET found in favour of Kathy Smith on three counts – two regarding trade union victimisation in order to deter her from carrying out trade union activities and one for breach of the right to paid time-off for trade union duties. 

The tribunal was critical of the council on other points also and found that an email sent by Cllr Payne, after Ms Smith raised concerns about people using the public libraries to view pornography, was ‘pejorative’ and that it was unfortunate that such an important matter was used as a vehicle to criticise Kathy about procedure. 

The tribunal found that the trade unions’ objections to cost-cutting and outsourcing was an irritation to an organisation that was embarked on a ‘commissioning journey’. 

The tribunal concluded that the council wanted to minimise the role of the trade unions within the organisation, while doing the bare minimum to act within the law in respect of the rights contained in the legislation. 

The tribunal also noted that Kathy Smith was clearly a conscientious union representative and spent a lot of her own time on union work. 

The council now has 28 days to settle on a figure for damages or there will be a remedy hearing to determine the extent of the damages. 

Kathy Smith said: “I am delighted that the employment tribunal agreed that I was victimised for carrying out lawful trade union activities. The council’s consistently hostile attitude caused me great upset and distress. 

“It has been a very stressful time, but worth it because justice prevailed. I would like to thank Unite for the steadfast support that I received throughout this period.” 

Unite assistant general secretary for legal services, Howard Beckett, said: “This case went to the heart of what is the legitimate role of a trade union representative in the workplace and the responsibilities they have to represent their members. 

“The ET heard serious allegations of victimisation against our long-standing branch secretary Kathy Smith who bravely stood up against the council’s unpopular privatisation of local government services.

“This judgment sends out a clear signal to local authorities across the UK, which may be tempted to erode the rights of trade union reps, to think twice about adopting a similar course of action, as the law won’t support, and Unite will not allow, such activities.”