Monday, March 28, 2011

Safety Rep in the Frontline at Fujitsu

ISSUES RESOLVED -SEE BOTTOM STOP PRESS! WORKERS at Fujtsu in Manchester are mobilising support for Phil Tepper, a UNITE member and, they say, well-respected safety representative whom the company has charged with gross misconduct. There will be a rally to back Phil Tepper when the union rep faces a hearing on Friday, which could result in his dismissal.

The Unite members say the charge against this brother entirely arises from his work as a safety rep, investigating complaints of work-related stress raised by members. "This victimisation threatens the ability of any rep to deal with any issue on behalf of any employee" says the Unite Fujitsu website.

Fujitsu is an important focus for today's trade unionism, showing it can organise in the new information-based industries with their young and relatively well-educated workforce. The Japanese owned company, providing IT services and support to industry and government, employs over 12,000 people in the UK, plus a couple of thousand temporary staff and contractors. The engineering and scientific union Amicus, now part of Unite, waged a successful fight for recognition four years ago, and has since sought ways to organise and represent agency staff. Phil Tepper has worked for over 40 years for Fujitsu, and been a highly regarded workplace and safety rep for fellow-workers for over a decade, his union colleagues say. They accuse the company of making groundless allegations against him now, despite knowing that Phil is undergoing cancer treatment. The extra stress could adversely affect his illness. The background to the current row is that two members in a department of about 30 people had complained of work-related stress and suffered long periods of sickness absence. The Health and Safety Executive has “Management Standards for work related stress” and a set of tools for measuring and identifying the root causes of work-related stress. These include an “indicator tool”, which is basically an anonymous survey.

Fujitsu’s own guidelines on stress refer to the management standards, though Unite says it is not aware of the company carrying out stress risk assessments (as it should under the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations) to protect staff, either generally or in this case. Union reps supplemented the survey with four additional questions and agreed that Phil should send it out on behalf of the Safety Reps. Phil sent it out to all the team, including the managers. Neither Phil, Unite or the survey made any accusations against anyone, or ask anyone to do anything other than return the survey and encourage others to do likewise. Phil pointed out that if team members felt there were no problems, the survey would show that.

One of the team members who had raised a complaint about stress and bullying has recently been charged with gross misconduct on unrelated grounds and summarily dismissed. The union believe this decision is grossly unfair and the member is appealing against it with their support.

When the survey went out on Friday 11th March, a number of employees responded to Phil, who replied politely and professionally in each case. Phil then received an email from a senior individual in HR warning of “potential serious adverse consequences for you personally and Unite generally”, but giving no indication of what the company thought Phil had done wrong.

UNITE tried to defuse the situation with a letter on March 16, pointing out that Phil was acting entirely in accordance with his role under the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977, Regulation 4, “to investigate complaints by any employee he represents relating to that employee’s health, safety and welfare at work”, but nonetheless offering an apology if anyone had taken offence.

On Friday March 25 the company sent Phil, who was on annual leave, an invitation to a disciplinary hearing with a charge of gross misconduct. The central allegation was that Phil issued the survey “with the intention of inciting a campaign of bullying, harassment and victimisation” against one particular manager, though no evidence has been provided of any such campaign or of any such intention.

Unite members point out that normally allegations of "bullying etc" would be investigated first before any charges were made. They are concerned that the decision in these case to proceed against Phil Tepper seems to have been taken at the highest level. The union has asked for discussions with tghe company, and suggested involving the Arbitration, Conciliation and Advice Service, ACAS. But with the disciplinary hearing due on Friday, Unite feels it has no option but to actively defend its member. A petition is going round Fujitsu to defend Phil Tepper, and there's to be a rally at 8am on Friday outside the front of Fujitsu at Central Park, Northampton Road, Manchester M40 5BP. If the hearing goes ahead supporters will gather outside at 1.55pm. Unite is asking for people prepared to act as witnesses for Phil Tepper, but it also warns that it is balloting for industrial action if the company victimises him.

stop press!

Defend Phil Tepper - RESOLVED Following discussions, all issues in relation to both Phil Tepper and the member who had been dismissed have now been resolved. As a result, the protests planned for tomorrow (Friday 1st April) are cancelled and all other activities for the campaign over Phil’s case should cease. Phil would like to express his gratitude for all the kind messages he has received.

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