John Pearson defence campaign

Late in 2014, members of the Public and Commercial Services Union sent an open letter to General Secretary Mark Serwotka demanding greater support for reps and members in employment tribunals.

The letter, published online here, was initially motivated by the case of John Pearson. John was a PCS rep at Hewlett-Packard, who was unfairly sacked as a result of his trade union activities during a dispute over job cuts.

In May 2013, HP supplied PCS with the statutorily specified details of proposals to sack a further 584 workers on 31 July. When John Pearson, in his capacity as branch secretary, circulated those details to branch members he was suspended and later dismissed on a charge of breaching company confidentiality. John was also charged with talking to a journalist about industrial action without obtaining HP’s prior permission.

PCS initially supported John and demanded his unconditional reinstatement, stating that the charges illustrated “that HP is aiming to destroy the very concept of an independent trade union.”

However, whilst mass sackings were still taking place; the work to rule was ongoing; and John’s branch was conducting a consultative ballot on escalation of action, PCS wrote to John on 29 November 2013 informing him that the union was no longer taking action to seek a remedy for him and that not only would John be unable to continue to hold office as Branch Secretary but that his membership of PCS was at an end forthwith.

Mark Serwotka wrote to John on 10 January 2014 reaffirming the ending of union support, on the grounds that the union’s lawyers had advised that “we could not support any Employment Tribunal claim as there was no realistic prospect of securing your reinstatement” and that “neither the group nor the branch are in a position to take industrial action aimed at your reinstatement”.

Rank-and-file PCS activists attempted to remedy this situation by launching the John Pearson Defence Campaign and sending a motion to PCS Conference calling for full support for John and reinstatement of his membership. However, it was defeated after intervention of political opponents of John’s in the HP section of the union, as well as the National Executive Committee, who made personal attacks upon John’s character and made the claim that John had been “hoisted by his own petard.”

Meanwhile, John was forced to engage a private solicitor to fight an unfair dismissal claim in the Employment Tribunal. The tribunal vindicated John and his supporters by finding that he had been unfairly dismissed and that the principal reason was his activities as part of an independent trade union.

Following on from the verdict, the letter to Mark Serwotka demanded: “Full support for John from PCS as he pursues reinstatement following his ET verdict, and full recompense for the legal costs he has paid at his own expense” as well as “A written guarantee that reps and activists victimised by their employer will receive full and unwavering support when fighting that victimisation, by all available means including ET, as a point of principle.”

The letter also tackled a more general feeling that the union could do more to support reps and members pursuing Employment Tribunals. It stated: “John’s case has also thrown into sharp focus what we feel is a distinct lack of support from the union more generally regarding ETs. Many reps have voiced their frustration at the willingness of PCS Legal to write off cases as unwinnable and withhold support, particularly in those instances where the rep has then gone on to win those cases.”

This led to the further demand for: “Steps to rectify the drop in the number of ET cases being pursued, including putting experienced lay rep advocates in control of whether a case is taken forward, ring-fencing funding for cases and encouraging the training of more rep advocates.”

Signatories to the letter include Sofia Azam, a PCS rep in Ofqual who received both legal and industrial support from the union in a victimisation case very similar to John’s.

Read the open letter to Mark Serwotka here.

Read Mark Serwotka’s response and John’s comments on it here.

Subsequently, motions were taken to PCS Conference in pursuit of the letter’s demands. The motions are listed here and the campaign’s response to their defeat can be found here.

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10 comments

  1. I would like to add that yes my ET case was supported by PCS but not in the fullest sense as there were many categorical failures made by PCS and the legal representatives. As a consequence I lost my case and PCS are now refusing to support my appeal and provide me with any financial assistance.

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  2. In my comments on the reply received from Mark, I referred to the large number of our members in my branch who were unfairly selected for redundancy or were dismissed in circumstances which did not constitute genuine redundancy. I said that many sought union support in claiming unfair dismissal at Employment Tribunal but that not one of those members has, to the best of my knowledge, been supported legally by the union”.

    In fact that was an understatement. Not only have none of these members been supported legally in Employment Tribunal claims but the union has not provided non-legal representation at the Employment Tribunal either.

    Mark is well aware of my Branch Executive Committee’s complaints addressed to him, about such cases. They affected, amongst others my Deputy Branch Secretary and one of the most experienced of our BEC members who had played the major role in representing this group of members in their internal appeals. In both of those cases, the union’s Legal Department failed to respond to requests for support prior to the expiry of the 3 months deadline for the cases being submitted to the ET. By contrast to the dedicated hard work of those two lost union activists, the full time official for the PCS HP Group had declined the branch’s pleas to assist with those appeals.

    Adopting the ostrich position will not work Mark. There are major deficiences in the official union support for branches and lay reps and officers who are struggling to fight employer attacks on the union. Now you have been re-elected unopposed as General Secretary for another 5 years, will you :

    (a) answer my individual communication on my Tribunal outcome that I sent to you 9 weeks ago? Your answering to the open letter appears to lealfrogged the former task.

    (b) lead the union in addressing the deficiences in supporting members at Employment Tribunal?

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  3. I wrote to Mark Serwotka on 24 October 2014, the same day that he sent me his reply to the open letter. His reply had ended with his offering me a meeting to discuss his comments. I indicated my acceptance of the offer. Yesterday I sent Mark a reminder that I had accepted his offer. I await his offering dates for the meeting.

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  4. John, if there is no response from Mark by next week then we need to take our campaign to the next level and spread our message to other branches – so that no other member faces what we have faced.

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  5. Good news John and I have received dates to meet Mark Serwotka on 15th January 2015. We hope we get a positive result and the meeting is constructive. This meeting will certainly help me to move forward and concentrate on building a new career with a good Trade Union that will value my intelligence – and my passion for supporting members through these difficult times.

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  6. We had waited 7 weeks for Mark Serwotka to offer us dates to meet him.

    I have no doubt at all that this development has taken place because of the strength of the campaign which has been mounted by so many comrades, in which the ‘PCS – Support Your Members’ blog and the Open letter have played a very prominent role. We are very grateful for that magnificent support.

    The campaign event that finally precipitated the issuing of Mark’s letters was probably this :

    http://pcsdwpnorthwest.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/support-john-pearson.html?m=1

    Please remember though that this campaign is about the general issue of the need for the union to support members in Employment Tribunal cases. Even if Sofia and I win retrospective support for our cases on 15 January, we still need to take forward the demand in the Open letter for :

    “Steps to rectify the drop in the number of ET cases being pursued, including putting experienced lay rep advocates in control of whether a case is taken forward, ring-fencing funding for cases and encouraging the training of more rep advocates.”.

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  7. On 15 January 2015, Sofia and I met the PCS General Secretary, Mark Serwotka, together with the President, Janice Serwotka and Vice-President, John McInally.

    I commented on the importance of my Employment Tribunal victory for the protection of lay union reps from employer victimisation and, point by point, I rebutted the reasons which were given in Mark Serwotka’s response to this Open letter for my not having received official union support despite my win (see menu items above). I referred to a letter which my solicitor had sent to the NEC on 1 December 2014 which explained the Tribunal decision and its significance.

    Sofia made out a strong case for the importance of the union agreeing to give support to her appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal. She too referred to a detailed letter from her solicitor to the NEC, which explained how the Employment Judge (who had sat alone despite it being a trade union activity case) had erred in law in not following precedents, such as the important Mihaj v Sodexho case 2014.

    Sadly, in my case Mark added to the allegations made against me in his 24 October 2014 letter, a charge that my supporters and I had “traduced the reputation” of the union by taking our concerns at the non-support for my case into the public domain. This attitude appears oblivious to the view that Mark and the officials who were instrumental in the decision not to support a branch secretary who had been sacked for trade union activities had therein themselves already traduced the reputation of the union.

    We were informed that the team of senior officials would report from the meeting to the full National Disputes Committee (NDC). Upon enquiring today when I might expect notification of the outcome, I was advised by Janice that “an NDC meeting will take place shortly taking into account senior lay officers availability due to attacks on facility time and the outcome conveyed once it has been endorsed or otherwise by the NEC”.

    Not only does this leave me not knowing when the NDC is going to review its decision, but the indication that I will be told of the outcome of that review only “once it has been endorsed or otherwise by the NEC” blocks any further targetted lobbying by me of NEC meetings, since I won’t know which NEC meeting has the issue on its agenda. Moreover, the branch AGM season would be passing by were I to take the approach of waiting for however long it takes for the NDC and NEC to make decisions. It is from branch AGMs that motions to the union’s Annual Conference (ADC) must emanate.

    I think that this means that motions from branch AGMs to the ADC and a lobby of the opening Conference session become the only certain way in which the campaign can be taken forward now. Thus I’d be very grateful indeed for the support of branches for such actions.

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  8. A quick update, my EAT Hearing is scheduled to take place Thursday 19th March and I have yet to receive a decision from the PCS union whether they will indeed legally fund my case. They know that they have made some errors at the ET, as my lawyer pointed out to Mark in a formal letter – but they are adamant that their conscience is clear and that they have done their best to support my case. Interestingly, I am now in official financial crisis as PCS will not offer me any financial assistance – even in a shape of loan that I can repay back once I have secured a job. In addition to this, as a member of the Unite Community, I applied for some financial assistance they have also rejected me. I will now end my membership with Unite the Union and I will no longer be paying them their salaries. I am utterly appalled with the lack of remorse and support the PCS Union has shown me and I can only hope that with the current attacks from the government against unions – and members leaving unions – that they don’t face the hardship of losing their jobs.

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