Officials working for Europe’s biggest education union, the National Education Union, are taking strike action over the alleged victimisation of their union representative. This is the first strike of its kind within the National Education Union’s history.
Members of Unite who are employees of the London Region NEU are taking action next week after a 94% yes vote to strike over disciplinary action regarding one of their workplace union representatives. Striking Unite members include regional officers, organisers and administrative staff.
Michael Gavan is a Regional Officer of the London Region NEU. He has been disciplined for challenging an internal decision to withdraw legal support from an NEU member’s case.
The member, a Black female teaching assistant, had been dismissed from her job and the NEU was supporting her to take her former employer to tribunal for unfair dismissal. Five weeks before her hearing was due, the NEU withdrew its legal support and said it would no longer represent the member.
Michael disagreed with the decision and supported the member in challenging it. Her legal support was reinstated and she went on to win the equivalent of six months’ pay and no sanction.
Michael was subsequently accused of misconduct and “undermining a colleague” by helping this member appeal the withdrawal of her legal support. Meanwhile, the experience of this member and whether she was undermined appear to have been marginalised in this process.
The dynamics in this case reflect deeper issues around race, gender, management approach, resources and punitive processes for resolving conflict. Unite, which represents the NEU staff, have repeatedly called on the NEU to deal with this issue informally and through mediation. NEU management have refused and have pursued a disproportionate approach. Members are concerned that an example is being made of a rep who stands up for colleagues.
A member who wished to remain anonymous said: “Michael has always been prepared to challenge our employer over approaches which we have considered to be unsafe or unreasonable, particularly during this pandemic. The current, punitive, course of action being pursued by the employer is deeply troubling and ironically reminds us of some of the worst management practices we have seen used against our members.”
Another Unite member said: “Today it’s Michael, tomorrow it could be any of us. We want to see a change in the way that professional disagreements between staff are addressed within the NEU so that we don’t face this situation again. We want to work together to put members’ interests first, particularly those most systemically marginalised such as Black members, and develop the best trade union practice they deserve.”
Members are demanding the withdrawal of the disciplinary sanction against Michael Gavan and the implementation of a fair, transparent and supportive process to deal with professional disagreement between employees within the NEU.
The strike is on Wednesday April 20th and Thursday April 21st. Following a picket line from 7am at London Region NEU, strikers will be holding rallies at midday outside the NEU HQ at Hamilton House, Mabledon Place, London WC1H 9BD on both days of action. Supporters are welcome!
Subscribe to the blog for email notifications of new posts