Staff at the UK’s human rights watchdog have joined lunchtime protests against plans to clamp down on trade unions in their workplaces (pictured).
Following a recent strike by PCS and Unite against staff and budget cuts which threaten effectively to shut down the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the agency’s chief executive Mark Hammond announced he will restrict future contact with union representatives to the statutory minimum.
Union members took part in protests outside the commission’s five main sites in Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow, London and Manchester.
Most of the staff – who say they will oppose any attempt to undermine the colleagues they have elected to represent them – are low paid advice workers and caseworkers.
The protests came on the day MPs are expected to debate the use of highly-paid consultants in the civil service and its agencies – a major source of concern at EHRC.
Speaking at the Glasgow protest, PCS Scottish secretary Lynn Henderson (pictured, right) told UnionNews: “It is ironic that the EHRC, which works very closely with trade unions as clients would not seek to be an exemplary employer when its own funding is going through difficult times.”
The commission is pushing through a 63% budget cut and a 72% reduction in staff by 2015, compared to 2007 levels.
Unions say these will hit the agency’s helpline, grants function, mediation, legal casework, and its work with communities.
Votes of no confidence in both the EHRC’s senior managers and board of commissioners were carried overwhelmingly by PCS members at their recent annual meeting.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “It is nothing short of shameful that this internationally recognised human rights body is trying to cut its elected trade union representatives out of the picture.
“Instead of threatening our reps, the chief executive and the senior managers and commissioners should be talking to us about our genuine concerns for the future of the commission and its vital work in preventing and protecting people from discrimination and hatred.”
As a United Nations ‘A status’ accredited human rights institution, EHRC has a duty to monitor, advise and report to government and parliament on the human rights situation in Britain, including violations of trade union rights.
Union officials are concerned that job security, salary rates and pension entitlements – as well as the anti-discrimination work of the EHRC itself - could all be under threat if sections of the agency are handed over to a less public service-minded, private sector employer.