My extremely able Human Resources expert, Richard Crouch, has been lending me a hand with some important correspondence. Those wicked souls in Unison are flexing their miniscule muscles again. But Richard and I have now written to all the councillors and 17000 staff with the facts:
"You will have received an email from Unison last week concerning SWOne, the recent Tribunal and the actions taken by the Council concerning the associated breach of its data. Without wishing to inflame the situation or prejudice the various investigations that are taking place, it is now incumbent on us to inform you of the Council's position.
As acknowledged by Unison, it has conducted a long campaign in Somerset against the ISiS project and the creation of SWOne and this has included Unison lodging a claim with an Employment Tribunal for an alleged failure to consult. The claim was lodged against SWOne Ltd, Taunton Deane Borough Council, as well as the County Council, despite there being no complaints made by those staff who transferred to SWOne nor those remaining within the Councils.
The original claim was a general claim concerning those staff who had transferred into SWOne, but it was only in the very last moments prior to the Tribunal Hearing, that Unison focused and re-directed its claim to staff not just from within SWOne, but also to those from the rest of the Council. This effectively meant that the potential claim for compensation went from circa £5M to one in the order of £75M. Unison's claim, if won, could have inflicted considerable damage on the Council, on its ability to deliver its services and ironically, on the Council's ability to secure the employment of many staff who deliver our services.
The Tribunal published its findings last Thursday, with the result being that Unison lost its case.
When the witness statements were exchanged a few days before the Tribunal Hearing, it became apparent that Unison had accessed the Council's payroll system and used the data of just over 300 staff. This was undertaken without the Council's knowledge or authorisation and with the intention of sharing the information in a public hearing. The Council's lawyers immediately took this up with Unison's lawyers who confirmed that it was a small number of Unison's branch officials who had done this. Unison’s lawyers also confirmed that what had not been accessed was the type of personally sensitive material that could lead to identity fraud. Such confirmation led to the Council concluding that there had been a breach in its systems and a breach of the Data Protection Act.
The Council immediately instigated its own internal investigations into the matter which are still on-going, but to date they have confirmed what the Council had been told by Unison's lawyers. As a result, it can be confirmed that one Unison Shop Steward has been dismissed and that the Unison Branch Secretary has been suspended, pending an investigation.
To add a further dimension to this issue, the Information Commissioner is now conducting his own investigations into the matter and will be interviewing a number of people under caution. This action of the Commissioner is not, as being reported, due to the Council raising a complaint to his office about Unison, but simply due to the Council fulfilling its obligation to inform the Commissioner of the breach and to reassure him of what the Council, as the Data Controller, is doing about it.
As a consequence, the Council's own investigations are running parallel to the Information Commissioner's and we understand that Unison itself is also conducting its own investigations into the matter.
The actions taken by the Council to date are entirely appropriate to the situation and in line with its policies and procedures in dealing with such serious issues. Irrespective of whether a member of staff is a trade union official or not, these policies and procedures apply equally.
Lastly, to put things into perspective, at this stage in the investigations, the Council believes that this serious breach is down to a very small number of Unison officials from within the Council’s Unison Branch. It does not reflect on others within the Branch, nor the Unison Regional Office, nor Unison nationally. As such, the Council and the Unison Regional Office are working closely on this matter and on employee relations generally to help ensure that they maintain to be as positive as they have been in the past."
That is telling 'em!