"It's great to have you back" were the words of one domestic worker greeting Unison shop steward Errol Maison as she clasped and hugged him on his return to work on 7 July. This was typical of the reaction of numerous Whipps Cross University hospital workers in east London, following the union's successful campaign to get Errol reinstated.
Errol had been removed by his employer, Healthcare Initial, following a request by Trust management. He was alleged to have failed to perform his duties to the required standard and afforded no right of appeal or right of representation.
These allegations were never proved and so-called photographic evidence from Trust management was thrown out by his own employer on the union's intervention.
He was advised that should the Trust not reconsider their decision then he may be placed "elsewhere in the business" with no guarantee to maintain his pay and conditions. The alternative was the sack.
Errol has no record of disciplinary action against him, has long service and had even been considered for promotion in the past.
But Errol was an effective trade union representative. As a member of the domestic department and a supervisory grade he worked closely with the hospital Trust management team. A staunch defender of his members, Errol was often singled out for special attention and closely monitored by Trust management. This was the real motivation behind the attack.
The union took the campaign for his reinstatement to the domestics, porters and switchboard staff employed by Healthcare Initial but also and importantly, to the wider hospital community including all of the directly employed staff.
Porter and Unison joint branch secretary Len Hockey raised the issue with the Trust staff side trade unions and professional associations.
A campaign involving protest letters, petitions, leafleting and stickers was launched. Meetings of Healthcare Initial staff were called on every shift. The recommendation from the union's branch committee that the union ballot Healthcare Initial members for strike action was put to the vote with members overwhelmingly supporting this.
The pressure the campaign put on ensured that Errol remained on full pay and crucially, no move was made to force him to take work elsewhere.
At the grievance hearing, the human resources director for the Trust entered the room and cancelled the proceedings on the grounds that it should be the company's procedures that apply and not the Trust's. This appeared convenient for the Trust as their manager, whose decision it was to have Errol removed, was about to face questioning from the union.
After some stalling, Errol was reinstated, but it became clear that the employers were worried about the loss of face that they would experience if Errol came back. They sought assurances that the union would not greet any return to work with triumphalism and victory celebrations!
The lesson of this campaign is clear. Solidarity, organisation, the threat to take strike action if necessary, together with a principled and resolute socialist trade union leadership, gets results.
17 May Threat to unity of PCS left
16 May Thousands on TUC demo
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