This is not only a big deal locally, but has been gathering momentum as an issue of much more widespread interest for the general principles involved as well as for the situation of the individual involved.Â I think it deserves all the publicity it can get!Â One way to sum it up is that a local union workplace rep and facilitator is essentially being sacked for being too good at her job, but there is more to it than that.What’s it all about then?
To oversimplify it, the Surrey & Sussex NHS Trust (SASH) has had a post of Trade Union Facilitator (TUF) for about four years now.Â The position is elected by all the unions in the trust and the person who is elected is seconded into the post, which is paid by the trust.
The trust have now decided that they are making the post redundant and are replacing it with a new post of Trade Union Convenor.Â The new post will be an appointment by management.Â The current TUF has been told she is ‘at risk’ and will be made redundant along with the job.
What is wrong with that?
First of all there is the principle that the unions would be represented by a management appointee.Â This will not be somebody who the staff will feel is on their side, and it removes the staff’s representation.Â Â Will the new convenor really stand up to the management when it counts?Â Or ever?
This a bad precedent to be setting.
In this case the incumbent has been a very effective campaigner, fighting to keep a shuttle bus service between Crawley and the East Surrey Hospital for staff and patients to use, leading to suspicions that the move is designed to remove somebody who has been a thorn in the side of the trust management and board for a long time. Victimisation in other words.
With the removal of the current TUF role (which the unions were not consulted on at all) the incumbent, Zena Dodgson, will not revert to the original job she was seconded from, or a similar job.Â The trust say that she has been doing it so long that it is now her substantive job, although I would be willing to bet that is not what her contract says.
In that case it should mean that she should be offered the new role which, on paper at least, is similar to her current job, but that is not an option either.Â The trust really are trying to have it both ways.
This would obviously have a big impact on Zena, making her unemployed, but it has other results too.Â The local Unison branch would lose a senior officer – if she was no longer an NHS employee she would not be eligble for the office – which they can ill afford to do.Â The hospital would also stand less chance of meeting criteria for foundation trust status – failing with Core Standard C17 which states “the views of patients, their carers and others are sought and taken into account in designing, planning, delivering and improving health care services.”
If the trust fails to get foundation trust status it could have serious effects on the healthcare in the Horsham/Crawley/Horley/Redhill area as the trust could end up getting moved into another foundation trust elsewhere and management would be even more remote from local influence.
Another impact is that if the trust go ahead with this then there is every chance that staff at the trust could find themselves considering industrial action, because Zena is very popular amongst the staff there for all the work she does on their behalf, and that is something nobody really wants.Â If we can do anything to prevent them needing to turn to that last resort then we should.
What is happening about this?
Obviously Unison are giving legal support and advice as any union would for any member.Â However, they can’t really do much in legal terms unless and until the employment is terminated, which in many respects is too late.Â They can get compensation which for many people would be enough, but that would still leave the trust with a glove puppet instead of proper staff representation.
Staff in the hospital have been signing a petition on the noticeboards, and members of other unions in the area have offered support.Â They intend to turn up at the hospital at the time Zena’s appeal interview takes place to lobby the trust and show their support.
Other members of health unions, and other unions, across the country have written to the trust’s chief executive to express their opinions on the situation.
What can I do about it?
There are a few things that anybody can do:
- Read more about the case – don’t just take my word for it.Â You can Google “Zena Dodgson” and find lots of references like this and this.
- Pass the word around.Â Make the case more widely known.Â If you are in a union or progressive political party pass this information on to your members.Â Tweet it. Blog it.
- Write to the SASH chief executive Gail Wannell (details in the links above) in a personal capacity.
- Get your local union branch or party branch to write
- Turn up at East Surrey Hospital for 3pm on December 8th and join the lobby.Â If you want to do that and need transport I can put you in touch with the local trade council who will help – although the contacts in the links above would be able to do that too.
- Or if you know somebody who works at the trust, see if they would want to go along to make the support more visible.
Is this just a party political thing?
Far from it.Â Zena Dodgson is not a member of the Labour Party.Â In fact, she is a member of the Respect crowd whoÂ is as likely to be attacking our local Labour MP in the newspapers as the trust board and whose fellow left-wing fringe colleagues stand against Labour and nearly caused us to lose the Crawley seat at the last general election.
This is one of those cases where solidarity amongst workers and trade unionists in the face of victimisation and injustice are more important than party matters.