Procedure for Complaints

Adopted April 2021. To be reviewed and updated November 2021.

General information

As stated in our Code of Conduct wherever reasonably possible comrades may choose to resolve personal differences and conflicts by talking directly to each other. In these cases we expect comrades to listen to concerns and criticisms when raised and to work to resolve minor disputes in a respectful and constructive way. In such situations comrades may ask another comrade to support them (their Branch Organiser may be a good first choice, but any other trusted comrade can be asked to do this). A supportive comrade can help talk through concerns, “sit in” on any conversations, or speak on behalf of one comrade to another comrade.

Any outcomes from such discussions do not need to be reported to any AWL committee or organiser, but comrades may choose to write down outcomes and conclusions to share with each other. They may also speak to a Branch or Fraction Organiser or a member of the Executive Committee (EC) about those outcomes. However comrades should avoid wider “after-the-event” discussion so that a line can be drawn under disputes which have been successfully resolved. That should not inhibit comrades from re-raising issues if they reoccur.

Our Procedure for Complaints is a formal procedure. Comrades who wish to make a complaint may initiate a formal procedure at their sole discretion and under any circumstance. In addition we would expect and encourage comrades to make formal complaints in one or more of these situations:
• when normal comradely relations have broken down and/or no direct discussion is possible.
• when a dispute has not been resolved adequately through direct discussion or another intervention,
• when an issue is considered significant or very serious by the complainant or another comrade with whom the complainant has confided.
• when comrades consider a more definite formal process, involving written records of discussions and outcomes would be helpful or more appropriate.

More guidance on criteria is given below. General advice on the appropriate use of the procedure can be sought from any member of the EC, the National Committee (NC), a member of the Disputes Committee (DC) or a Branch Organiser. All these comrades will have received training in the use of the procedure. Up-to-date emails and phone numbers for all these people are available on the AWL Online Members Forum.

The procedure is to be used in conjunction with the AWL Code of Conduct and Safeguarding Policy which together set out a general framework for comradely behaviour and protection of comrades. These policies, this Complaints Procedure and our Constitution will be accessible on our website.

The procedure is open to non-members. If you are not a member of the AWL and wish to make a formal complaint please contact the Disputes Committee Secretary at: disputes@workersliberty.org

The procedure can be used for collective complaints.

If you have serious concerns regarding any child or young person (under 18) or a vulnerable adult please consult one of the Safeguarding Officers or the Safeguarding Appointed Person at an AWL national event. It may be necessary to report these concerns outside the organisation even if this is against the wishes of the individual. In these instances confidentiality cannot be protected. However, we will always handle cases with sensitivity to the person making the complaint or the young or vulnerable adult affected. Please contact the Safeguarding Officer and Safeguarding Deputy here: safeguarding@workersliberty.org

If at any stage if it is decided that a course of action involving external organisations should be followed (e.g. reporting to the police) this will be done promptly.

How to support a comrade who tells you they have harmed by another comrade and are considering making a complaint
As stated, if the comrade is a child or a vulnerable adult you must report to the Safeguarding Officer or the Deputy, using our Safeguarding Policy as your guide.

There are a number of ways that comrades can offer practical support to other comrades. These include:
• Support in raising a complaint using our Complaints Procedure, e.g.reading and discussing the guidance together.
• Support in reporting to external agencies.
• Signposting to external support organisations.
• Help getting a separation of political work to avoid unnecessary contact with the person causing harm. This can be arranged with a member of the EC and no such measures will be taken without the permission of the victim.
• Third Party Reporting is possible in some instances. Please read the guidance below.

Please bear in mind that incidences of significant harm may make a Stage Two complaint appropriate and information about that can be found below.

Guidance on Third Party reporting
If the victim is an adult then they may or may not wish to pursue a complaint. It is very important not to break confidentiality, except as outlined below [text to come]. If a perpetrator becomes aware that the victim is making a disclosure this may increase the risk to the victim.

You can discuss the general issue, to seek advice, with one comrade from the DC or EC. You must, where feasible, seek consent from the victim before doing so. But if you require such advice and cannot obtain consent it is permissible to break confidentiality for this. As far as possible, you should not disclose identities. For example, you should not disclose names.

If the matter involves significant harm (see below) you will definitely consider taking advice from a comrade on the DC or EC in confidence. The AWL also expects you to read and follow the guidance above about what to do if a comrade discloses harm.

If you directly witness an event of serious concern you can pursue a complaint under our Complaints Procedure, without an additional duty of confidentiality to those involved, by reporting this to the DC. Wherever possible the consent of the victim should be sought prior to commencing the complaint and investigation.

Additional action that can be taken where you have a credible third party knowledge of abusive behaviour [this section is to be further discussed by the National Committee with professional advice has been.]

Principles of the Procedure

The Procedure for Complaints consists of two stages.

The first stage is designed for complaints that have not or cannot be resolved through direct discussion or where a comrade considers, or has been advised that, a more formal approach is necessary, appropriate or helpful. It should not generally be used for complaints involving significant harms as defined above except where the complaint wishes. The first stage consists of an informal investigation followed by discussion with the subject of the complaint, or mediated discussion between parties (described below).

Second stage complaints are handled by the Disputes Committee (DC) who will make a definite recommendation about a way forward. The second stage should generally be used for complaints involving significant harm. The sorts of things this might include are described under the specific guidance for these complaints. The second stage is also to be used where complaints that cannot be or have not been resolved at the first stage. It may also be invoked by the complainant if they consider a formal investigation is necessary or preferable.

Where comrades directly witness behaviour which they consider would be grounds for a Stage Two complaint they should always refer their evidence to the DC who will pursue the complaint. 

Comrades under 18 and “vulnerable adults” (as defined in the Safeguarding policy) are given further protection by the principles in our Safeguarding Policy.

In the case of a complaint from a non-member, a member of the EC (or DC if the complaint is against a member of the EC or NC) will handle the complaint following either First Stage or Second Stage procedures. Initial processing of the complaint will be handled by the DC. Both committees have the option of responding that they consider a complaint vexatious or outside its competence. The EC/DC will report to the National Committee, following principles of confidentiality, on any complaint and actions taken.

Stage One Complaint

1. Criteria
If you feel you cannot resolve an issue by talking to the person directly or in writing or if the behaviour persists beyond a direct intervention you should consider making a stage one complaint. The behaviour will be unacceptable, but perhaps not of the most significant harm. The issue could be, for example, feeling undermined in organising, or appropriateness of language or behaviour, or a longstanding, or frequently experienced problem. It may be an issue of perceived minor bullying and harassment, or a one-off event that you want to stop from being repeated. You can seek advice in making your decision from a Branch Organiser or National Committee member.

2. First steps
a. Write down the behaviour you are not happy about. Keep a diary of incidents, records of times and your feelings.
b. You are strongly advised to ask another AWL member of your choice, a trusted comrade at this early stage to talk over your complaint and support you in the process.
c. Send an email to your Branch Organiser, or an NC or an EC member of your choice, stating you wish to make a stage one complaint and a brief description of the complaint. This person should not be involved with the dispute. This person will either be the “lead” and oversee your complaint, or they will arrange an alternative lead (if, for example, there is an issue of capacity, or conflict of interest).
d. You may also directly approach a DC member if the complaint involves an officer of the AWL or an NC or EC member. If you are in any doubt about who to ask to handle your dispute consult the Secretary of the Disputes Committee or a member of the Executive Committee.
e. Up-to-date email addresses of the EC and the DC are available on the AWL internal Forum.
f. The lead will initiate and conduct a stage one procedure or, having discussed the issue further with you, they may advise you that a stage two procedure is more appropriate. The lead, with the complainants permission, may consult other members of the EC or DC for advice at any time. They are obliged to report the complaint to the Safeguarding Officer if the complaint involves a comrade covered by that policy.
g. The lead may help with getting a separation of work between the parties to avoid contact and potential unnecessary further conflict.
h. The lead will be independent between the parties. They will aim to be supportive and comradely but support is not their role. They will ensure all parties have access to support.

3. Next steps
a. The lead’s job is to conduct an investigation. The investigation should attempt to establish the facts of what has happened, including speaking to the complainant, anyone accused and any witnesses.
b. Communications between the lead and all parties will be in strict confidence. A written summary of the complaint, direct discussions between the parties and outcomes and the results of the investigation will be made by the lead and made available to all parties.
c. After establishing the facts the lead will try to resolve the situation guided by their investigation. They will do this through:
- a mediated discussion (a discussion where both parties and the lead are present, with the proviso that all mediated discussions are strictly voluntary);
- separate structured discussions between themselves and the parties
- arranging a more formal mediation with the agreement of the parties.
d. If no resolution has been found, or if the parties do not agree with the lead’s interpretation of events, the lead will initiate a stage two complaint so that a more significant investigation can be conducted.
e. A report on the facts of the procedure and its outcome including any move to stage two should be lodged with the Disputes Committee, and made available both to the complainant and the subject of the complaint.
Mediation can also be asked for by any party at any stage (see note on mediation below).
Comrades can also ask for and be asked to take a “break” from AWL activity in order to allow discussion, mediation or the separation of the parties to take place. Or on grounds of well being.

Stage Two Complaint

All stage two complaints are dealt with by the DC of three comrades, with a further three DC alternates available as substitutes if necessary, on the request of the parties. The complaint will be handled by at least two comrades from among these six comrades. Every effort will be made to ensure that the investigative body is acceptable to all parties to the dispute but the DC’s decision on final personnel will be final.

1. Criteria and support
Stage two complaints may take place in one or more of the following situations
• the stage one procedure has failed to resolve matters:
• where the complainant considers a formal investigation is necessary or preferable.
• where the complaint involves significant abuse, discrimination, bullying or harassment (see note below).

These complaints may be matters which could otherwise be pursued through the criminal justice system and where the complainant/victim is over 18 and not a vulnerable adult, but does not wish to go to the police. We will always support complainants in their choice of procedure whether it involves contacting the police or seeking professional help or using the AWL Complaints Procedure. We recognise, given the police's record in these matters, and for other reasons, complainants may choose not to go to the police. If you are in this situation you may want to talk to people closest to you before making a complaint. You may also want to access professional help (see section on ‘Further Help’). You can also discuss what to do, and how to make an internal complaint with either a member of the DC or a member of the EC. They will guide you through the process and talk with you about the other support you have. All emails and phone numbers are published on the AWL Members Forum or are available by writing to office@workersliberty.org.

We will always conduct our own investigation whenever a complaint is made and we are asked to do so but we will seek to ensure that our investigation does not interfere with or compromise any potential police investigation.

Given our resources we cannot replicate anything like the best professional standards of investigation. We will make complainants and alleged perpetrators fully aware of this deficit at the beginning of the process. We will seek whatever outside professional advice is deemed appropriate and within our resources at every stage.

We are aware that in our society people who complain of sexual harassment or abuse are often subjected to victim blaming; we should consciously work against this. Our starting point is such complaints will be dealt with as any other kind of complaint — at face value.

We will not prioritise our public reputation over ensuring an open and fair process. If a public allegation is made against one of our comrades we will always investigate to the best of our ability and make a public statement outlining what action we intend to take. We will seek to involve the complainant / victim at the earliest possible stage. We will co-operate with external investigations. We will share information about that investigation as appropriate with the complainant/victim.

However the running of these processes will be conducted with the strictest confidence at every stage. See below for more on this confidentiality.
We have no “statute of limitations” on complaints and all complaints will be heard and supported.

Mediation can be asked for by any party at any stage but either party has a right to refuse mediation without judgement. With a stage two complaint the Disputes Committee has the power to decide that mediation is not appropriate.

Comrades can also ask for and be asked to take a “break” from AWL activity in order to allow discussion, mediation or the separation of the parties to take place. Or on grounds of well being.

Note on significant abuse, bullying, discrimination and harassment (hereafter referred to as “significant harm”)
Significant harms include abuse, bullying, discrimination and harassment. These definitions overlap. Investigations will always consider whether there is intended harm as well as an effect of harm. For example, actions which cause mental and emotional distress may happen through ignorance of their effect, or they may be intended to cause distress. Both intention and effect is relevant and important. Such distinctions will affect the findings and outcomes of investigations.

Abuse includes:
• actions which involve physical force and mistreatment which may or may not cause injury
• actions which involve sexual activity and behaviour without consent or understanding
• actions which cause significant, repeated, or ongoing mental and emotional distress, and/or isolation
• actions which manipulate or control another person

Bullying is repeated behaviour which is intended to hurt. It may involve malicious gossiping, name-calling, unreasonable requests. The behaviour is intended to make a person feel unhappy, isolated or undermined.

We recognise that harmful behaviour is often underpinned by forms of discrimination — racism, sexism, homophobia and so on. Given the normalisation of discrimination, the accompanying abusive or bullying behaviour may not be recognised by victims and others. Such discrimination can also be grounds for complaints. Discriminatory behaviour may include derogatory remarks, failure to make reasonable allowances for differences, unreasonable verbal pressure.

Harassment is unwanted behaviour that has the purpose of violating a person’s dignity or creating a degrading, humiliating, hostile and intimidating environment for someone. It could be the result of and include sexism, racism or other discrimination. The unwanted behaviour could include spoken or written abuse, comments about you on social media, physical gestures, jokes and banter that is offensive to you.

These notes are not exhaustive. Further information can be found here:  https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/recognising-adult-abuse-exploitation-and-neglect.

2. First steps
a. In the case of a complaint referred from a failed stage one procedure, the lead will contact the Secretary of the DC in writing. They will provide a written report of relevant facts. For example: the details of their investigation, matters in dispute in that investigation and a description of unresolved issues.
b. To initiate a stage two complaint you should either contact the Secretary of the DC, or, if you prefer, any member of the EC (please also read the section “Getting Help” on page one of this guide). After discussion with you, and with your permission, the DC will start the process or the EC member will contact the DC to start the process.
c. The EC can initiate a Stage Two complaint where there is evidence which can be investigated and tested by the person complained against.
d. The DC Secretary will have an initial conversation with the complainant at the earliest possible opportunity. Together they will discuss accessing support, agree which members of the DC will be involved and go through the basic details of the complaint. This will be reported to the DC Secretary.
e. The DC Secretary will write to the subject of the complaint setting out the charges, the details of the procedure, informing them of any decision about suspension, advice about accessing support and agree with members of the DC will be involved.
f. This business may be conducted by phone; it should be expedited as soon as possible.
g. The DC Secretary will call a meeting of the DC. The DC will agree charges and will consult with the EC about other measures that need to be in place (e.g. keeping the parties apart).
h. According to our constitution complaints are not grounds for suspension from membership. However the EC may require a comrade to withdraw from areas of activity, for the period of an investigation. In such cases the comrade does not lose their right to make political submissions or to vote, but must exercise them in writing or by proxy. Such decisions may be made on the grounds of safety to comrades where there is credible evidence of immediate danger of repetition of abuse, if not yet proven. Members withdrawn from activity on these grounds will be given a week’s notice and will be allowed to appeal to the EC. The EC’s decision is final. Conditions will vary. It may preserve comrade’s activity in the class struggle. The conditions will be written down by the EC and lodged with the DC. The EC will help implement these decisions. At this point the investigation will begin (see Next Steps (2.a) below).
i. Comrades can also be advised to take a leave of absence on grounds of well-being.
j. As stated above, alternate DC members will be asked to investigate where there are objections. Every effort will be made to ensure that the investigative body is acceptable to all parties to the dispute but the DC’s decision on final personnel will be final.
k. The DC Secretary will soon afterwards inform the EC of the charges in writing. This will be reported to the EC as a whole, at a meeting, respecting confidentiality as appropriate and as agreed with the complainant (e.g. anonymising the complainant). If the complaint is against an EC member, they should withdraw from those parts of EC business to do with hearing about or managing the complaint.
l. If the complaint is against a member of the DC they will be required to stand down from their role on the DC and their place will be taken by a DC alternate. If the complaint is against the DC Secretary then, this comrade having stood down from their role, the DC will elect a new secretary.

3. Next steps
a. One member of the DC will agree to be the lead and they will set out the terms of the investigation including timescales. These will be communicated to both/all parties within 24 hours.
b. The complainant and the alleged perpetrator will have the right to, and are strongly advised to have, support and representation. The lead will check both parties have this in place.
c. The investigative body will conduct a formal investigation, including at least:
-Separately interviewing both the complainant and alleged perpetrator, where possible
-Interviewing any witnesses. Both parties will have the right to call witnesses to be interviewed.
d. Particular attention will be given to supporting the complainant through the process. Subsequent lines of investigation and questioning may need to test the evidence but will be compatible with the initial approach of support. This should not contradict a fair process for all parties.
e. Records and details of meetings will be completely confidential to the investigative body throughout in matters relating to the organisation as described above except when reporting to the EC, the rest of the DC and ultimately to the NC (see below).
f. The DC has the authority to seek paid-for expert advice outside the organisation.
g. A final meeting of the investigative body will be held within 60 days of the complaint to discuss the complaint, investigation and outcome. This can take the form of a hearing with the body and both parties present to give their point of view, separately if necessary.
h. The investigative body will write a report for the NC and other members of the DC/alternates covering the facts of the investigation, discussion and recommendations. Recommendations may include:
• No case to answer
• Outside the competence of the investigative body
• Mediation
• Moving comrades' activity
• Training
• More serious disciplinary measures including: motion of censure, suspension from membership of a leading committee, suspension from membership, expulsion. In cases of expulsion from the organisation the NC will follow guidance in the constitution in relation to appeals.
i. Where serious disciplinary measures have been made the investigative body will be obliged to identify the comrade being sanctioned to the NC. Where a disciplinary measure involves an expulsion, this will be reported to the organisation.
j. The NC can accept the recommendation or propose alternatives. The NC must have a good, evidenced reason to propose any alternative. Recommendations will be voted on.
j. In cases of a very serious nature e.g. serious bullying, predatory sexual behaviour, sexual harassment, where the investigative body feel it would be useful or either party requests it, the report should be open to confidential, independent scrutiny.
l. Both/all parties have the right to be heard in person by the NC.
m. There will be an appeals procedure, open to both parties, see below.
m. Parties will be consulted regarding records retained by the organisation, but in all cases the DC is responsible for keeping one full record of all cases. This full record will remain accessible to all DC members and alternates, to future DCs, and to the current and future ECs. It will be kept in a secure place and should not be reproduced in any form.

Monitoring of outcomes

The investigative lead is responsible for monitoring less serious outcomes, in consultation with the DC. In the case of mediation, reorganisation of activity and training these outcomes should be implemented (or begun) within 60 days. In the case of more complex and longer-term rehabilitation measures the EC will appoint one of its members to oversee this work, set a deadline for progress to be made, and review it with the DC investigative lead every six weeks. Where progress has not been made after three months the DC lead and EC member has the power to recommend further measures. This should be discussed and voted on at the NC with all parties being informed of that discussion. Both have the right to be heard in person by the NC. The DC investigative lead and or EC member will keep the complainant informed of progress or lack of progress with outcomes.

Appeals procedure

Appeals against an outcome or recommendation can be heard by an ad hoc Appeals Committee appointed by the National Committee (except in the case of expulsions where procedures in the Constitution will be followed). The Appeals Committee will be made up of at least two members of the AWL who are not NC or DC members or known friends of either of the parties.

To lodge an appeal either party should write to the Secretary of the Disputes Committee, copying in the Secretary of the National Committee indicating which body they wish to hear the appeal.

At its next meeting the National Committee will appoint two people to hear the appeal if asked to do so.

The person making the appeal should prepare a document making additional points and testimony backing up an argument that either the Stage Two ruling be quashed or that the original complaint is upheld, or that an alternative, lesser or more severe, sanction be made.

The DC Secretary will ensure that the party making the appeal has representation (a comrade who can offer support) throughout. The appointed committee will review the original investigation(s), the appeal document and question the comrade making the appeal. They may ask further questions of the other party in the dispute. The Appeals Committee will report to the NC on whether or not they have found in favour of the appeal. That decision will be final.

If an Appeal involves an expulsion, under the terms of the constitution, the basic facts of the expulsion (respecting confidentiality of complainants) will be reported to the membership. 

Exception to the Complaints Procedure (officers of the AWL)

AWL office, branch and fraction organisers and members of the Executive Committee embody the authority of the group and are usually its most important ambassadors. We expect the highest standards of conduct from these organisers.

While organisers have a responsibility to issue instructions about collectively-agreed political activity, they should not personalise or try to use intimidatory pressure in discussions and disagreements over those instructions. Similar standards are expected in interactions with non-members.

As stated, our Complaints Procedure is open to both members and non-members and all are entitled to raise a complaint with the AWL if they believe our organisers have not acted as they should. We recognise that it may be particularly difficult for a variety of reasons to institute complaints against organisers (e.g. lack of confidence, confusion over personal and political roles). Non-members may not realise it is possible, or may consider it inappropriate, to raise complaints.

The EC has a responsibility to protect members and contacts from harm and uphold the integrity of our organisation. Although it is better for complaints to be made by the person affected through the Complaints Procedure, individual EC members, or the EC as a body, may need to take swift action against an organiser or other EC member when there is good evidence for doing so. Such action is appropriate where, if a complaint had been brought, it would be a stage one complaint.

Action may consist of direct discussion with a member of the EC who is not involved in any dispute and this should always be conducted promptly. In this case the nature of the complaint and outcome will be reported to the whole EC and also to the Disputes Committee.

As stated above, the EC should initiate a formal stage two complaint within the terms of the guidance above if it is appropriate. This will be conducted by the Disputes Committee as outlined above.

Further notes on confidentiality and communication

We have a responsibility to respect the confidentiality of all parties. This is essential for comrades to feel they can trust the processes we set up and that they will be treated with respect and sensitivity.

Prompt and comprehensive communication is also essential for trust in the process. All conversations should be recorded and circulated promptly as appropriate as described in the Procedure to the parties concerned. Particular attention should be made to keep complainants fully informed of progress or lack of progress with complaints, outcomes and sanctions.

The lead person dealing with a complaint will explain the general rules of confidentiality to the complainant and explicitly ask what protection of their identity they wish to be made.

In any written reports circulated via email all parties will be anonymised and marked as confidential (they must not be circulated except as indicated by the originator of the report). Internal lists will not be used for circulating documents (to avoid duplication of archiving). In verbal reports the identity of victims/complainants will be anonymised. Verbal reports will normally only be given to responsible committees and individuals as outlined above. In any written reports for general circulation details will be changed to ensure anonymity.

In cases where complaints have been upheld and serious sanctions given, verbal reports e.g. to the EC or NC will identify the comrade being sanctioned.

The DC and Safeguarding Officers will set up and maintain a secure archiving system as described above. The EC will not archive documents originating from the DC to avoid duplication and limit circulation of information.

Witnesses will be asked to keep details of their evidence and their participation in an investigation confidential. All parties with contact with the investigation (DC and EC) will be asked to keep the investigation confidential. Members who fail to respect confidentiality will be regarded as being in breach of discipline.

The parties involved should be able to consult and discuss with personal supporters and members of the DC and EC.

Note on mediation

The AWL does not have expert skills in mediation. However some comrades in their professional roles will have some skills in general “common sense” mediation. Those comrades, when requested, may be asked to help mediate in disputes. What is expected in this role will be outlined to them by the lead in any investigation. Mediation will only be used to help resolve less complex or particular issues. It should not be used where there is an extensive history or power imbalance between the parties. The lead has the power to refuse any request to arrange mediation for any reason. We may employ professional help where mediation is complex but also seen to be the best course of action by both parties.

Further help

This section to be produced.

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