NHS Tayside

NHS Tayside suffer crushing defeat in legal bid to stop strike

Last week, NHS Tayside took UNITE to Scotland’s highest Court in a desperate attempt to stop NHS Tayside Porters continuing with their industrial action. They alleged UNITE had failed to comply with highly technical trade union laws- laws introduced by the Thatcher Government.
With less than 24 hours notice, UNITE officials received notification from NHS Tayside’s lawyers that they were to attend the Court of Session and appear before Lord Pentland. They were charged with failing to properly describe the group of workers taking part in the strike- a complex technical requirement, designed to make it difficult for unions to organise strikes. This was despite the fact that the strike had already been going on for over a month and the employer already knew- because they had taken money from people’s wages- exactly who was involved.
UNITE instructed senior lawyers to defend their members. They argued that NHS Tayside were just relying on a technicality. If the employer really had a problem with the information provided by UNITE, why had it taken them six weeks to point it out? And why, when UNITE then agreed to give them all the information they asked for, did the employer still insist on going to Court to stop the action?
Lord Pentland threw out Tayside’s arguments one by one. He criticised them for the haphazard way they had presented their legal case. He disapproved of the delay by senior managers in alerting the union as soon as they thought there was a problem. This was poor industrial relations practice, particularly from a large public sector employer. As a result, he refused to stop the strike. Instead, he ordered NHS Tayside to pay UNITE its full legal expenses.
While the full cost to the public purse of this misconceived legal action remains to be seen, what is clear is this: you know you’re winning the argument when the other side start relying on Thatcherite anti-union laws to try and win their case. Hopefully, NHS Tayside will now stop wasting money on lawyers and use the savings to pay their Porters the money they are now long overdue.
David Martyn
Thompsons Solicitors
Berkeley House
285 Bath Street Glasgow G2 4HQ

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