As part of the PCS conference covering the Home Office Group there was part of the agenda set aside looking at the victimisation of PCS reps within the Department. I was given the opportunity to set out how I’ve been treated.
Meanwhile the Home Office Group in PCS is launching a Fairness at Work campaign in the coming weeks and months and my own personal campaign against redundancy will continue.
Conference, firstly I want to thank you all for giving me the opportunity to talk to you today. It is of course a great shame on the Home Office that this even has to be on the agenda of our conference but the truth of the matter is that the Department themselves have forced this issue upon us and now it is our responsibility to ensure that the victimisation of activists is brought to an end. The Home Office group campaign for fairness at work is very important for us all. It’s important for members as well because if we do not end the victimisation of reps our union will become weaker and our members will have less protection in the workplace.
We have just gone through our annual election period and elections can be divisive but on this issue we have something that should unify us and we need to be united in our protection of each other as activists. It doesn’t matter to me what your politics are or who you are aligned with I just don’t want anyone to have to go through the things I have gone through. As far as I’m concerned as activists we stand together and we are all comrades.
Before I come to talk about the issues I’ve been facing I want to talk about the work I’ve been doing is a rep because it adds context to the way local management view me and the way the Home Office has approached my case. I became a PCS rep just over five years ago and in that time I’ve managed to fit in quite a lot. I’ve had over three years experience as Branch Secretary in the Passport Office London and South branch. I served for three years on the Group Executive Committee. I served on the group Editorial Board for three years. For the last year I’ve been on the Editorial Board of PCS nationally and I’m one of the Vice chairs of the PCS London and South East regional committee. I’m also secretary to the International Committee at the Southern and Eastern TUC. In what spare time I’ve got I’m studying for an MA in International Labour and Trade Union Studies. So in a short period of time the trade union movement has become a massive part of my life.
In the last five years I’ve campaigned in the workplace on a range of issues. It’s not uncommon to link up all types of issues that you see in the news and in the workplace because they actually do fit together. So it hasn’t been unusual for me to be campaigning in the workplace about institutional racism one moment and then distributing circulars about justice for Palestine the next. Issues rub together in ways that would surprise outsiders perhaps but that’s because we see the bigger picture and we see justice for all and not just a few. This is important because this is what sets us apart and therefore leads to victimisation.
At the National PCS conference in 2010 I spoke on a motion calling for the scrapping of ID cards. This was either brave or foolhardy because that was the area I was working in. The coalition government duly obliged and got rid of my role in the process. So I was declared surplus in June 2010 and it was immediately obvious that nearly all of the PCS members facing surplus status were from our equality groups or had faced sanctions in the previous year or so. We know what restructure means to senior management; it’s an opportunity for them to get rid of what they see as dead wood.
We were given an assurance that if there were roles to be had we would not be forced out of the organisation. We were told that if we applied for a role and we were the only surplus candidate then we would have a quick meeting with the hiring manager and then we would be slotted into position.
I applied for a job as the manager of the London interview office in IPS. I was the only candidate. I was told to prepare for a presentation for the interview. That’s exactly what I did but when I got to the interview the presentation was never asked for. I was then interviewed at length by two senior managers known to be hostile towards the union.
I should explain that most of my examples at the interview stages come from my trade union work so if you have a manager who is hostile to the union then you are immediately at a disadvantage.
The job was eventually given to somebody outside of the surplus pool on a six-month basis but they are still in post two and a half years later.
In another example I applied for a policy role in IPS in an area where I’ve worked before and despite being the only candidate I was given a 2 ½ hour in-tray exercise followed immediately by a one and a half hour interview. The hiring manager later claimed that he was giving me every opportunity to prove myself but in fact this felt like barriers being put in front of me to hurdle over. This hiring manager also didn’t fill the post for over six months and insisted that he considered it was better to make his staff work overtime than to have me in his team.
I applied for a communications role in IPS and received a phone call while I was on leave from HR to tell me that I had got the job. I can’t tell you how amazing that was to hear. I was with family at the time and this whole issue has had quite an impact so this was good news was good news for everyone. When I got back to work it emerged that a business case had been put in by an IPS executive director arguing that I wouldn’t be able to pick up the role even with six months of training. This was a job essentially updating the IPS intranet, a role I could have done without any training.
In another example a hiring manager sent me an email setting out point blank that he would not consider my application unless I gave up my union work. Via a data access request I have also seen an indication that HR managers considered that my insistence on carrying on with my union work was an indication that I was embracing redundancy.
In all these examples I was the only candidate and my redundancy could have easily been avoided.
This is just a snapshot of the things that have been going on. There is in fact a great deal more but I have little time to go through it all here. The upshot of the situation is that I got to my stage 3 redundancy hearing and set my case out. I knew from previous periods of reflection with the Cabinet Office that everybody else at this stage who has wanted to stay in the Department has been offered a position. After setting my case out to the panel I asked to be offered a role. My line manager said he would consider the situation and call me back into the meeting. It took him 12 minutes and he simply rebutted everything that I’d said and he maintained that it would be too hard to find an SEO a suitable position. Then from under a pad of paper that had been on the desk the whole time he produced a sealed envelope with my pre-signed redundancy notice inside it. It had been in the meeting the whole time and it was clearly decided upon in advance.
I appealed that decision but was unsuccessful in challenging it. Bizarrely they say they can’t find me a suitable SEO position and yet every week they continue to send me adverts for SEO jobs they encourage me to apply for. In fact, after receiving my redundancy notice by the time I got back to my desk my line manager had sent me the latest email with all of the job adverts on it.
They have treated me differently from others in the surplus pool and yet they deny this. They deny anyone else has been offered a role before redundancy.
In the last few weeks I have far from given up hope. I wrote to Mark Sedwill the Permanent Secretary asking him to meet with the union and myself to discuss the situation and he has refused to do that. The arrogance of the letter he sent me was the arrogance of someone sitting aloof above proceedings. And this tells us an awful lot about why we are in the situation we are in. In my case and I think in all of the others, one thing in common stands out and that is that the onus of responsibility has been put squarely at the feet of the people being victimised. I feel as though I have been given all of the responsibility to solve the problem that I find myself in but none of the power that I need in order to do that. The only people that can solve the problem I’m in are senior Home Office managers. Only they can offer me a position and only they can solve the problems of hiring managers refusing to take on a trade union rep.
In order to force them to solve these issues we need to be strong and united. When a trade union rep is in trouble at work we must rally round and do whatever we can. We need to support the GEC in its efforts and the group in return should fully support branches and individual activists. We are strongest in our workplaces. That is where our real power lies so we must educate our members about what victimisation means and we must ensure that they have the confidence to stand shoulder to shoulder with their activists. This is hard work but it is the work of generations of trade union activists. This issue is not new and it has been combated in the past but we will only win if we are strong and if we take radical action in our own defence.
During my redundancy appeal hearing the Civil Service Rank and File Network organised a communications blockade of Mark Sedwill’s office. I know that a number of people from around the country spent part of their day ringing up his office, emailing him, and sending full copies of the Communist Manifesto through his fax machines. I understand he was hopping mad and that HR wrote to Mark Serwotka on the issue. That’s the kind of thing we need to do more of. Disruption gets results, action gets results. Indeed in the last few weeks there has been a mellowing in tone from HR and I’m now hopeful of a job trial in UK BA in the next few weeks. Having said that HR have not confirmed whether the job will be trialling me whether I will be trialling the job. Without the campaigning this would not have happened.
I just want to end by thanking everybody for their support. My campaign for reinstatement is not over yet so if you haven’t been involved with it so far then please do and if you have then there’s always more to be done. I want to thank everybody at PCS HQ for the work that they’ve done, and also my branch for the support.
Comrades, these are exceptionally hard times but we must look after each other and we must aim to win. Thank you.
- Jon Bigger Victimisation – The Facts #PCS (pcsglobe.wordpress.com)
- Jon Bigger Victimisation Update: Employer calls online support for #PCS Rep ‘negative’ in document to staff (pcsglobe.wordpress.com)
- ‘Blacklisting has got to be finished with’ (morningstaronline.co.uk)