How I got my job back

Submitted by AWL on 28 April, 2015 - 4:32

Charlotte Monro, a union activist, was sacked more than 18 months ago by Bart's Trust after working at Whipps Cross Hospital for more than 25 years. She spoke to Jill Mountford about her battle for reinstatement.

I spoke at a local council overview and scrutiny committee about planned cuts to our stroke service in the hospital. That seems to have triggered the action against me.

It started within six days. A key allegation was that I brought the trust into disrepute by providing inaccurate information to OSC, though they could not tell me what it was that was inaccurate.

In reality it was that I had given a different opinion about the impact of changes on patient care. I had explained the concerns of the stroke specialist clinical staff. The local "Save our NHS" campaign had asked me, as a trade union rep, to address the councillors alongside them.

The newly-created merged trust seemed to have no accountability to our local population served by Whipps Cross, or our patient organisations. At the time many people suspected an agenda to run down Whipps Cross and centralise services in order to fund the massive PFI debt from the new buildings at the Royal London and Barts hospitals.

The trust also went into financial turnaround, with management consultants brought in to address a £77m deficit.

That move was announced two weeks after the trust started the disciplinary process. It suspended me from attending the key meetings as a senior union rep. A major plank of turnaround was mass down-banding of nursing and other staff, and loss of posts.

Other allegations were that I failed to respect confidentiality by talking to staff affected by proposed job reduction. I was discussing information I had been provided with in my union capacity as their representative, ahead of the launch of consultation.

It was charged that I was involved with or a member of "other groups" and thus subject to a conflict of interest. That charge was not upheld, but it was referred to in my dismissal letter.

Late in the day they added an allegation that when I applied for my job 26 years ago I failed to declare past convictions from 40 years ago for protest-related activities.

I could not accept that I was severed from a job that I did well, in the hospital I loved and had given much to, essentially for taking on additional responsibility as a union rep.

Far more was at stake than just me and my job. If my dismissal was allowed to stand, then it put any trade union rep at risk of arbitrary action against them as an individual. Our legal right to take part in activities of a trade union would be trampled if an employer knew that at will they can define trade union activities as "personal conduct". I had to fight this for everyone’s sake.

Fantastic support from so many people – my colleagues, fellow trade union reps, the community health campaigns - gave me strength.

My union branch were very active straight away. They wrote to the chief executive and campaigned. The widespread concern about my case in the health campaigns and the union movement, and the press coverage, with Polly Toynbee writing about my case in her column, were important.

On the legal front, my union took a decision to support me to take my case to tribunal.

A group of colleagues, friends, health campaigners and trade unionists set up a campaigning group. They organised petitions, press statements and circulated information. Many letters and emails of protest to the trust, and messages of support for me, came through. My case seems to have struck a chord with trade unionists and with people campaigning over the treatment of whistle blowers.

Our East London Save our NHS and Keep our NHS Public campaigns, and the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, really took my case up and kept everyone informed. Many people from those campaigns came to protests and meetings. During my tribunal, most days there were about thirty people there, listening intently listening for hours.

At one point, shortly after the appeal outcome confirming my dismissal, when I was unsure if I could go to a tribunal or not, I thought I might just have to look at a different future and keep telling people about my case. But I never gave up wanting to challenge it.

The hardest time was the initial trauma when I realised they were going for dismissal. In the months after my dismissal I was really in a state of bereavement.

HI was involved with the local health campaign, and continued taking up issues. That included, at times, going as a member of the public to Barts Health Trust board meetings to ask questions on issues the community or staff were concerned about. Whipps was still my local hospital.

I think my reinstatement has helped establish that health staff and their trade union reps have a right to speak to the community about cuts to their services.

In legal terms, it was eventually accepted by the trust that my raising concerns about cuts to health services was in the public interest, and because I had already raised the concerns to the trust, that was "protected disclosure", It is not legal to dismiss someone for "protected disclosure".

The case has helped establish that the law protecting trade union rights has to be respected.

However strong corporate power seems to be, the power of people and justice can be greater.

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