Representing Members: ‘You have to speak management’s language’

Scott Johnston, who’s lead statistician for EU Exit and Trade Analysis at BEIS, was inspired to go on a recent PCS Representing Members course (formerly ‘Handling Personal Cases’) by the experience of dealing with his own personal case.

He tells Activate why he got involved, what he took from the course, and what tips he passed on to fellow members.

“I’ve always been a member of PCS. You don’t always pay much attention to the union until these things affect you in such a profound way. I have a predisposition to helping others and I thought I could use the skills I learned while going through my own personal case to do that.

In my former department I contested the results of my end-of-year performance assessment. I found I had a mild form of autism early in 2018. Despite making my managers aware that I had started a lengthy diagnosis process, some of the conclusions they came to were discriminatory.

There were other issues too – for example, I was severely under-resourced, operating with 40% of the team I should have had, on top of some personnel issues that I was not sufficiently supported on. I had also had to correct quality issues that built up over four years before I took over the management of the team.

Management had not been happy with me raising these issues, such as staffing, and I feel they decided to target me in terms of things that are related to autism, such as communication skills, whilst not giving credit for the additional amount of work I delivered.

So I decided to teach myself the 2010 Equality Act.

I treated my case like a work presentation. I went to an appeal meeting with a PCS rep and one of the directors and I had slides summarising what my work situation should have been, and what it ended up like. It included instances of bad management and broken promises. I also referred to the Health and Safety at Work Act, which the TUC promotes as a good organising tool and which my PCS rep had suggested.

After four months of going through all of it, I was offered the outcome within five minutes of the presentation. The director was genuinely concerned and was sympathetic to the case I presented. Previously, departmental HR had refused to go to conciliation at Acas and that just made me a lot more determined. Although in a sense my brain makes me see the world in a different way, the ability to think differently is also my advantage.

I got the box marking I wanted, and therefore also got a bonus. My complaints were heeded - and management action was taken on the basis of it. They have also taken steps to be more considerate to disabled employees, especially those who are neurodiverse.

Following on from this experience, I’ve decided I’m going to start studying law next year, part-time alongside my job.

So having actually worked on my own case, the PCS Representing Members course was interesting.

It was really insightful to get different perspectives from reps in other areas because I wasn’t really aware of the extent to which management are messing people around.  Some of the stories were horrendous, it did make my blood boil.

One of the things I shared was that it’s important to be able to speak management’s language. I’m a senior manager myself so it does help to know the way they think.

I also think reps should be wary of accepting that departmental procedures are necessarily ‘discrimination proof’. In my case the guidance was written to favour the organisation. Also, just because the employer has guidelines, it doesn’t supersede the UK law.

We also learned that one of the most important things is to keep an audit trail. In my case, putting that down graphically in a presentation really helped.

And whilst planning for the best possible outcome for the member, you do have to be prepared to compromise.

I’d like to learn more about personal casework, especially specialising in discrimination. And I want to start doing representation work in the branch pretty soon. Because of my disability I need that little bit more confidence, perhaps with some extra shadowing of another rep or more training, and the branch have been very willing to accommodate that.”

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