Representing members: ‘The important thing is I get results’

In the latest of our columns from activists, we hear from branch representative and disability campion John Cole, of DWP Tyneview Park, about his tips for taking members’ cases to an employment tribunal (ET).

I’ve been an activist for 30 years. I have a direct, blunt and often unorthodox approach, which doesn’t find favour with all managers.

One unorthodox approach I recently adopted was to contact a pensions centre manager and ask for a chat so I could raise a number of concerns I had with some managers within his group. The manager proved very amenable and the meeting productive. This approach at least has the potential to resolve issues without having to go down the formal route.

The important thing is I get results. I have a 90% success rate with personal cases, and have won seven out of 10 ET cases, either through ACAS intervention or a full hearing.

One particularly significant victory was a case in 2012 that involved three counts of disability discrimination and one of unfair dismissal. The ruling was that the business should have moved the member from telephony duties, which were patently unsuitable due to the member’s mental health issues and resulting impaired focus and concentration. This rendered them more vulnerable to security breach issues. Management failed to act and ultimately paid the penalty. The ET judge ordered the member’s re-engagement and awarded a considerable sum in compensation.

My area of expertise is attendance management and disability. Because of my experiences, I have been asked to give an ‘up-skilling’ session to our BEC on ETs and related issues.

I will be emphasising the value of using ACAS wherever possible, particularly in instances where the manager has acted over-zealously, or in contravention of policy and procedure when giving a warning.

Some trade union activists only feel inclined to go down the ET route in cases of dismissal. I prefer to nip cases in the bud at an early stage, where possible. For example, if a first written warning is inappropriate, but not rescinded via grievance and appeal, if I have an avenue to ACAS and ET (eg if there is a disability issue) I will take it. Often it takes no more than ACAS intervention for a satisfactory conclusion.

A real boon to activists was the introduction of ACAS early conciliation in 2014, which made it necessary to refer cases to ACAS before submitting an ET1.  

It also gives a bit of breathing space… as the ET time limits clock stops until ACAS have completed their action and issued the Early conciliation certificate.

In the last three months in my branch, ACAS intervention has resulted in a first written warning being rescinded for one member and a final written warning being rescinded for another member.

In both instances management had not acted in compliance with policy and procedure in giving the warnings. Both cases had gone to grievance and appeal – but to no avail. The DWP grievance process is fundamentally flawed and unfit for purpose.

However, both members had disabilities covered by the Equality Act 2010, thus I was afforded another avenue of appeal through referral to ACAS.

Reps should not be apprehensive about submitting cases to ET. It is initially daunting, but is ultimately a rewarding experience. Inexperienced reps are, more often than not, given a helping hand by the ET judge. Many cases are, of course, settled by ACAS and do not proceed to a full hearing.

I firmly believe that activists should use ALL resources at their disposal when representing their members. They deserve nothing less.

Updated 23 October 2018

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