“Sue me if you dare” – GMB activist responds to Carillion legal threats

by - 21st May 2013, 8.30 BST

Swindon bullying placardsGMB members who have been involved in a more than year-long industrial dispute with Carillion at Swindon’s Great Western Hospital were astonished to learn the company had been shortlisted for The Guardian’s prestigious “Sustainable Business Award”.

The award ceremony took place last Wednesday, and GMB members protested outside the event.

The dispute involving 150 cleaners and porters has centered around claims of bullying and harassment by supervisors on the Carillion contract, and the practice of some supervisors shaking down staff for gifts of gold and money in exchange for holiday approvals, overtime or shift changes.

No proper investigation took place by Carillion until the GMB initiated a series of strikes, starting on February 14th 2012.

In the lead up to the Guardian awards, as the GMB branch secretary, I sent a number of tweets to the judges of the awards, I also wrote a blog post encouraging others to do the same.

Each of my tweets quoted a link to a Guardian article, highlighting Carillion’s involvement with blacklisting, or the malpractice at the Swindon hospital. The tweets asked judges how they could justify honouring Carillion.

As a result, on 10th May, Clarks Legal, the law firm representing Carillion, issued a letter to me following the pre-action protocol for libel, and demanding that the blog post and tweets be taken down.

Following advice from GMB union, I have not complied with Carillion’s request. The GMB’s lawyers have issued a robust response to Clarks Legal, and any defamation action would be contested.

There was nothing libellous in either the tweets or the blog article, and indeed the same accusations have been made against Carillion in many publications, but obviously tweeting the judges was annoying the company, and they sought to use bully boy tactics to close down criticism.

Incidentally, it is ironic that after months of legal argument by Carillion’s lawyers at the Bristol Employment Tribunal seeking to oppose information about the occurrences at the Swindon hospital seeing the light of day in court, they now claim to be contemplating a libel action that would allow the whole story to be presented to a jury, and even allow the introduction of evidence about Carillion’s activities as a blacklist user.

Andy Newman is also editor of Socialist Unity