Victory for Yunus, Questions for Unions
AFTER a four year struggle against injustice, a North-East health worker and trade unionist has won the battle to clear his name. For mental health nurse Yunus Bakhsh, the question is whether Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Trust, which had sacked him for alleged bullying, will give him his job back, now that an Employment Tribunal has found the Trust unfairly dismissed him for his trade union activities.
But the question for other union members is why this member with years of work in the health service was abandoned by public service union Unison, so that he was left to fight a long legal campaign against the employer on his own.
There is another question to be asked of both the Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Trust and the union, which insists on being very politically correct in confronting racism. It is, how come characters with far-Right links in the North-East seemed to be well-informed in advance of the accusations and moves against Yunus? An NHS Trust dealing with very vulnerable people and confidentiality on a daily basis must surely be run by people whom we, the public can trust?
Yunus Bakhsh was suspended in 2006, after twenty years service, on the basis of an "anonymous" letter of complaint against him. Senior managers began what they called an "impartial investigation" of allegations that he had bullied or intimidated other staff members. After Yunus became depressed and ill he stopped attending disciplinary hearings. He was sacked in 2008.
In a 400-page report issued last week the employment tribunal found that the Trust had unfairly dismissed Yunus for his trade union activities. It also ruled that the employer had discriminated against him because of his illness.
Referring to Elizabeth Latham, the NHS Trust's head of human resources, the Tribunal says: “The hand of the Human Resources Department which acted unlawfully in suspending the claimant… extends throughout the whole of the process… all the way to the conclusion of the appeal hearing…” It describes her statements as “not credible”. As for her fellow director, Russell Patton, the report says he acted in an “arrogant and hostile fashion” in his dealings with Yunus, and describes his statements as “unreliable and at times incredible”.
One might have expected Unison, which has spent a fortune on advertising telling workers they need the union behind them, to have jumped in to back up Yunus Bakhsh. Instead the officialdom appeared readier to jump on this worker and anyone who supported him. There was an echo in the beginning of this case of the victimisation of mental health nurse Karen Reissman, in the Manchester area, sacked after 25 years service, for having spoken to the press about her worries concerning the effect of cuts on services. Before he was suspended, Yunus Bakhsh revealed to the press that Nothumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Trust bosses had awarded themselves big pay increases while cutting the patient food budget.
But Yunus was also hoping to stand for the leadership of a new Unison union branch due to be created after several hospital trusts merged. If he had won he would be heading one of the biggest branches in the country. That might not be a welcome prospect for some people in Unison who have been finding ways to remove other left-wing activists like Yubus (a Socialist Workers Party member) from positions. The employers' action might be their chance.
At any rate, Unison leaders told Yunus he had no chance of winning his case at a tribunal. They refused to fund the challenge or authorise the strike ballot his members were demanding to defend him. They then used essentially the same evidence as the Trust to suspend him from office and mount their own “investigation”.
Yunus was expelled from Unison in 2008, with union leaders knowing that vital paperwork that could clear him of their charges was locked in an office that he was barred from entering. The union held to this position even when it revealed that contributors on far-Right hate sites were confidently anticipating the outcome, and seemed to know more than he did.
Last year when Yunus was invited to speak at the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) conference in London, Unison officialdom in the North East tried to forbid union branches from sending delegates or making donations to the conference. Darlington branch secretary Alan Docherty has been suspended for three years for supporting the NSSN.
The Employment Tribbunal's judgement notes, “The Tribunal is bound to wonder whether she [Elizabeth Latham] found in Elizabeth Twist [Unison’s former head of health in the northern region] an ally and a shared sense of purpose”.
Speaking with him was Caroline Bedale, from Manchester, who had been banned from office in the union for eight years, reduced to five on appeal. Her 'crime' apparently was to continue supporting Karen Reissman's campaign for reinstatement after Unison withdrew legal representation. Also, from London, national executive member Glenn Kelly spoke about the case of four members suspended from office in the notorious "wise monkeys" case, and the "dawn raids" on three union branches by full-time officials.
Interviewed this week by Socialist Worker, Yunus Bakhsh said he could not have survived the last four years without support from fellow-trade unionists. “I want my job back and to be back in my union,” he said.
“Unison should commission an independent inquiry into the way I was forced out of the union, and those responsible should face charges. This Tribunal decision is a massive victory for me. But it is also a victory for everyone who faces discrimination because of a mental health disability, such as depression. It is a victory for every trade unionist who stands up to bullying bosses and refuses to be cowed. And it is a message to those in the leadership of our unions—we expect them to fight to defend activists with all their might, not to witch-hunt them because of their political beliefs.”
As trade unions like Unison are supposedly gearing up to fight the Con-Dem government's cuts and attacks on rights and services, the question of which side union leadership and bureaucracy are really on is a question not just for Unison members but for all trades unionists.
Download the Full judgement [6.1mb PDF]
(acknowledgements to Labour Left Briefing, July issue, for report on Unison conference fringe).