Interview with sacked NSPCC union rep

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Interview by Clare Jerrom, reporter with
communitycare.co.uk

 
John Power

Social worker John Power is celebrating this month following a
successful claim for unfair dismissal from his job as a telephone
counsellor with the NSPCC’s child protection helpline.

Acting in his role as British Union of Social Work
Employees’ representative, Power alerted Community Care to
staff grievances over restructuring and job losses that appeared on
the charity’s internal website.

But he was suspended from his role, that he had held for 11
years, for forwarding the information, which included extracts from
the charity’s intranet chat page where members of staff had
admitted shock and disappointment at the NSPCC’s plans to
scrap 18 projects.

Last week, the central London employment tribunal ruled
unanimously that the NSPCC acted improperly when sacking Power last
January. The material on the chat site was not of a confidential or
personal nature, and there was no evidence of Power breaking any
clear company rules on use of email information.

Here Power, who now works for Hertfordshire council,
tells Clare Jerrom how he feels about his actions now the
experience is over.

Clare Jerrom: Do you believe union
representatives should do more to publicise staff concerns over
workplace issues?

John Power: Absolutely and particularly when
the employer procures public

monies by way of donations.

CJ: Do you feel information published on a
company internal website is public information or confidential?

JP: In my case the information I forwarded to
Community Care was not by its nature confidential
material. As part of my duties on the helpline I handled
confidential child protection allegations, but this information was
contained in an entirely separate data bank. It would be
inappropriate to divulge this information externally. A charity
like the NSPCC has to be transparent about service reductions if it
is to retain the confidence of the public.

CJ: Do you think organisations should be
clearer on rules over confidentiality on internal websites, if they
exist, to prevent confusion over the issue?

JP: There needs to be clarity about the rules
governing IT usage, backed up by training, appropriate signage and
agreed in advance with employee representatives at national level
as recommended by the ACAS guidelines.

CJ: Are union representatives too frightened to
publicise workplace concerns for fear of repercussions such as
suspension?

JP: Absolutely. There remains within the NSPCC
considerable fear amongst staff, even employee representatives,
about publicising workplace issues. The current proposals to reduce
the helpline in London have left staff there paralysed with despair
and very reluctant to challenge the proposals because of what
happened to me.

CJ: What do you think could be done to protect
union representatives in the same situation that you were in?

JP: In my case, if the NSPCC had been aware of
their own rules on internet usage, had they not been so blindly
obsessed with maintaining their brand image and had they agreed for
me to be represented at the investigatory interview by the full
time official as I was entitled to as an employee representative, I
believe this whole debacle could have been avoided.

CJ: Do you think there is any difference in the
protection given in the voluntary sector compared to the statutory
sector?

JP: In my experience the protection given in
the statutory sector is far greater because statutory sector
employee organisations have far greater critical mass. Statutory
sector employers are able and generally willing to call upon a
range of expertise and experience.

CJ: Has the experience discouraged you from
working in the voluntary sector or was your move to Hertfordshire
council for different reasons?

JP: I was working part time for both
Hertfordshire and the NSPCC. Working for Hertfordshire I have very
positive relationships with the voluntary sector and I would not be
discouraged from seeking employment in that sector in future.

CJ: Do you feel your actions were
justified?

JP: Yes my actions were justified. This is
confirmed by the tribunal’s findings.

CJ: Would you do the same again? Do you feel it
was worth it?

JP: It will have only been worth it if the
NSPCC takes a long hard look at itself, becomes more transparent
and democratic and halts the move away from child protection and
the delivery of direct localised services to children and families
; i.e. the inexorable shift towards becoming an almost entirely
“virtual” organisation.

I would do the same again because I think the direction of the
NSPCC is a matter of public interest.

CJ: What are your plans for the future?

JP: I continue to work in Hertfordshire full
time as a senior practitioner working almost exclusively with
children and families involved in care proceedings. Hertfordshire
has been extremely sympathetic throughout this long ordeal and I am
grateful to my care group manager Lin Phillips in particular for
her support throughout.

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