‘We’ll strike again if need be’ – warn Swindon hospital workers

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The Carillion strikers won great support on their march through Swindon
The Carillion strikers won great support on their march through Swindon

GMB trade union officers, representing 150 GMB members employed by Carillion at Great Western Hospital in Swindon, expect the company to reach conclusions by 27th April in the second investigation into allegations of bullying, harassment and discrimination.

GMB members suspended the strike action to allow Carillion time to conduct this second investigation into these allegations that led to 18 days strike action so far at the hospital.

These 150 GMB members are involved in an ongoing dispute at the hospital against their PFI employer Carillion over allegations of bullying, harassment and discrimination.

After the first investigation Carillion was not prepared to uphold any of the grievances of the staff.

As a consequence, the GMB filed discrimination claims on behalf of the members at the Employment Tribunal. Semperian, the company which owns the PFI contract was joined to these tribunal cases.

Progress to date in the second investigation has seen the original 109 members in the grievance all being asked for a second interview.

Eighty of those interviews were completed by 5th April. At the same time a second grievance was submitted by 23 people on the same issues.

Carillion are seeking to interview the remaining 28 of the original members and the 23 of the new grievances next week, concluding on 20th April.

GMB officers expect Carillion to reach conclusions by 27th April.

Carole Vallelly GMB Organiser said on Monday: ‘The GMB Central Executive Council (CEC) meeting on Tuesday 17th April will be told that members employed by Carillion in Swindon suspended further strike action last month to allow Carillion time to conduct a second proper investigation into serious allegations on the table since last year.

‘The GMB asked Carillion to set up an Investigation Board to oversee the investigation with this Board consisting of representatives from Carillion, the NHS Hospital Trust, GMB and the PFI owner Semperian.

‘This was because while these members took 18 days of strike action there was no movement whatsoever by Carillion to deal with the issues at the heart of the dispute. Carillion did not agree to a Board but the second investigation is underway.

‘Carillion can have no doubt about how serious the GMB and our members are to secure a decent workplace and proper representation for our members. I expect Carillion to conclude the investigation with an outcome by April 27th.

‘The CEC will expect Carillion to conclude that our members’ grievances are well founded and that they will put in place mechanisms to ensure no repetition and structures to enable proper representation.

‘That is the only way that this dispute will be concluded. Any attempt to sweep the allegations under the carpet will fail and will lead to further strike action.’

In total, GMB members have taken eighteen days of strike action so far. No further strike days have yet been fixed.

GMB members voted overwhelmingly for strike action in protest against bullying and discrimination at the hospital.

GMB members are demanding that Carillion management act to stop the culture of bullying on the contract and for an end to discrimination in the application of pay and conditions on the contract.

The GMB submitted a formal complaint by 109 staff over allegations of bullying in December. During the early months of 2012 90 staff members have given evidence of terrible bullying.

The manager at the heart of the bullying allegations has now left Carillion.

At talks in February 2012 Carillion said that they had reluctantly accepted the resignation of the manager at the centre of the dispute but that they were not prepared to uphold any of the grievances of the staff.

As a consequence GMB filed discrimination claims on behalf of the members at the Employment Tribunal. Semperian has also been joined to these tribunal cases.

In February 2012, the GMB was given assurances by RMT and ASLEF, whose members’ London Transport pension fund is a major shareholder in Semperian PPP Investment Partners, the owners of the 30 year PFI contract at Great Western Hospital in Swindon, that they would intervene in the dispute with Carillion staff at the hospital.

The GMB wrote to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee asking for an investigation into the siphoning off of NHS cash into tax free scams for foreign investors using Channel Islands.

This is after it came to light that the holding company of Semperian that owns 35 PFI contracts to run NHS hospitals in the UK, including that in Swindon, is based in Jersey which the GMB alleges is for the express purpose to enable overseas investors to avoid tax on dividend income arising from running these NHS facilities.

The ultimate holding company is Jersey registered Semperian PPP Investment Partners Holdings Ltd. The GMB is calling on the chancellor to ‘stop this this tax avoidance’.

In March 2012  Dave Smith, a trade unionist who was blacklisted by his employer Carillion, advised the GMB about the activities of a Carillion HR manager involved with the Swindon dispute in his own blacklisting.

Smith said that a London Employment Tribunal in January was presented with evidence that Liz Keates, the Carillion HR Director involved in the dispute at Swindon, managed Carillion’s relationship with the Consulting Association.

This was the body that was responsible for the ‘blacklisting’ of 3,200 construction workers and excluding them from employment because of their trade union activities.

GMB wrote to employment agencies including SkyBlue Solutions to make them aware that Regulation 7 of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Business Regulations 2003 prohibits an employment business (agency) from providing temporary workers, to replace workers who were taking part in an official strike.

An employment business supplying workers in these circumstances, will be committing a criminal offence and the end user/employer/client could be found to be aiding and abetting that offence.

EASI is currently conducting an investigation into the alleged strike breaking by Sky Blue Solutions. Breaches of the regulations result in a fine of £5,000 per worker per day supplied to do the work of the strikers.

• A just-released written judgement from Dave Smith’s Employment Tribunal has sharply condemned Carillion.

Carillion admitted that two of its subsidiaries (Carillion (JM) Limited and Schal International Management Limited) had used the services of the now-defunct Consulting Association and that its managers supplied damaging and false information to the blacklist about Smith because he had raised concerns about safety when he was an accredited UCATT safety rep.

The Consulting Association was closed down and fined for breaches of data protection legislation in 2009 for holding records on thousands of union activists, safety reps and others which were used by major industry employers to prevent those named in the blacklist from finding work on building sites.

Smith lost his Employment Tribunal in January because he was not employed directly but via an employment agency.

But in the just-released full judgement, tribunal chair Anthony Snelson said: ‘We reached our conclusion with considerable reluctance.

‘It seems to us that he has suffered a genuine injustice and we greatly regret that the law provides him with no remedy.

‘We hope that he can take some comfort from the fact that the wrongdoing of which he complains has been exposed and punished and legislation passed designed to protect others from the misfortunes which he has experienced.’

Documents disclosed under court order by the Information Commissioner’s Office show that Smith’s 36-page blacklist file contained detailed personal information, with entries relating to occasions when he had raised legitimate health and safety concerns about asbestos and unsanitary toilet facilities.

Much of the information on the blacklist file, which the Tribunal judgement describes as ‘sensitive’ and ‘assembled over a number of years’ – was wildly inaccurate and lawyers believe it appeared to have been used to smear Smith’s reputation.

The judgement says the Consulting Association ‘received substantial remuneration’, estimated at a minimum of £20,000, for providing evidence to one construction company alone, John Mowlem, for whom Dave Smith worked in the late-1990s.

Unable to obtain work because he had been blacklisted, Smith was forced to leave the construction industry in 2001 and went on to qualify as a teacher in further education.

The blacklist file was shared amongst the 44 largest construction firms in the UK and resulted in repeated dismissals and periods of unemployment. The Consulting Association was shut down after a raid by the Information Commissioner’s Office. It found files on more than 3,200 workers.

Smith said: ‘The written judgement says that I have suffered a great injustice at the hands of big business.

‘It is not just me, but thousands of other workers who have suffered a grave injustice. The decision sums up by saying that, as an agency worker, I have no protection under UK law. In that case, we need to change the law.

‘That’s why we are going to fight this all the way – we will appeal it to Strasbourg, if necessary.’

Lawyers are currently preparing an appeal against the Employment Tribunal’s decision.