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Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Hounding of Michael Gavan

On Monday, Michael Gavan will be fired from his job as chair of Newham UNISON Local Government for alleged "gross misconduct", because Newham council accuses him of "not acting in the best interests of the council" and organising an "unauthorised" meeting against possible privatisation of services.

Newham UNISON has denied the allegation amounts to gross misconduct and moreover argue that this is a direct attack on the union, aimed at gagging their main negotiator as it starts a campaign against the privatisation of the refuse and cleaning service.

Newham Council’s case rests on two allegations. First is the “unauthorised” meeting of refuse and cleansing staff that Michael is said to have organised and attended. There was indeed a stewards meeting to discuss privatisation, but unfortunately for the council, it had been called off the day before it was due to be held. The second allegation is even more preposterous: the allegation of “not acting in the best interests of the council” is purportedly the result of Michael’s representation of a UNISON members who have been suspended for more than a year on an allegation of having committed a criminal offence that the council claim Michael was aware of – and should have reported.

To make matters worse, the council decided to bring in the former head of the School of Management at Westminster University to “investigate” Michael, who subsequently faced a perfunctory interview that failed to address the central claims against him. The appointment of a management consultant to investigate makes clear that the intention is to sack him and remove one of the union’s most effective representatives.

Newham Council’s aim seems to be to intimidate other union representatives by showing it can remove anyone who dares to stand up for rights at work and oppose council plans to privatise. Protests against Michael’s treatment have come from trade union branches all over the country, but although he has formal backing from UNISON nationally, there have been complaints that the London Regional Office has been slow to call a ballot for strike action (action eventually happened on 31st October). And despite the fact that Newham branch secretary Irene Stacey is also a member of UNISON’s NEC, general secretary Dave Prentice has yet to flex his union’s muscle within the Labour Party nationally to stop the appalling actions of a Labour council much-favoured by Whitehall. Could this perhaps be because Michael is also the chair of the local branch of Respect?

Michael is likely to win the inevitable employment tribunal that will result from the hounding he has received from the council, but he will be out of work next week and unlikely to see an outcome in his case for anything up to two years. In all probability, the council will settle at the eleventh-hour, satisfied that its money will have been well spent in breaking the union. Meanwhile, the borough’s New Labour Mayor Sir Robin Wales will be able to plough on with privatisation, resulting in cuts in pay and longer hours for cleansing and refuse staff.

Messages of support can be emailed to the branch at newham-unison@btconnect.com and messages of condemnation sent Robin Wales at Robin.wales@newham.gov.uk

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