Branch Secretary :

St Mungos management escalate dispute by suspending Unite rep

Orwellian move at St Mungos: management suspend Unite rep for grievance about bullying.


In an Orwellian escalation of the crisis at St Mungo’s, management have suspended a union rep who had raised a grievance concerning bullying management.  The grounds include that senior managers were distressed by the suggestion of a bullying management style.


Astounding 44% of reps already facing formal processes regarding own employment


This twist follows a vote for strike action by this team following a failure to adequately investigate bullying management! Unite has warned of widespread concern in the organisation at a bullying approach by senior management and the targeting of union reps; before this week’s escalation an astounding 44% of workplace reps were already engaged in formal processes regarding their own employment. Unite’s convenor at St Mungos also has a case going to an employment tribunal for victimisation which occurred in the lead up to the last dispute.



Possibility of further walk outs


To make matters worse, the suspension of Unite’s rep on ludicrous charges of gross misconduct was implemented without reference to Unite officers in contravention of the ACAS (Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service) code. On its own this would be a provocative move but in the context of the vote for strike action it looks like a misguided attempt at intimidation.


Unite Regional Officer, Steve O’Donnell has warned of the possibility of further walk outs in response to the provocations in a video here.


Denial will not make problem disappear


When Unite has sought to raise the problem of bullying, St Mungo’s management have refused to engage, claiming that bullying is not a collective issue. Denial will not make the problem disappear. In a recent Unite survey 68% of respondents reported that they have experienced bullying from St Mungo’s management. Management dismisses this alarming result pointing to a management survey that staff say lacks credibility because it is not believed to be confidential.


A culture of bullying is always damaging in the workplace, but there are deep concerns in the context of an organisation working with vulnerable client groups like St Mungo’s. For example, the independent review by Dr Bill Kirkup into events at Liverpool community health NHS trust pointed to a bullying leadership in which those brave enough to raise concerns risked bullying harassment and suspension. The report pointed to a culture of denial which harmed patients.


Steve Douglas made no difference to belligerent management style


Unite believes that many St Mungo’s services are currently excellent. This is because of the commitment of front-line workers and managers. However, the approach of the senior leadership of the organisation has been cause for deep concern in recent years and will tend to erode services over time unless corrected. Staff had hoped that the arrival of a new Chief Executive last year would result in positive change but sadly, events of recent weeks suggest that Steve Douglas has made no change to the belligerent management style.


A well-known example of failure of leadership in St Mungo’s was the organisation's work with the Home Office in deporting rough sleepers which, as Unite repeatedly warned, was found to be unlawful. The leadership conducted an internal review which fails to mention warnings from the union, finds no St Mungo’s managers responsible and simply claims that they were not aware of the actions of the organisation that they lead. Taking this position at face value: why were they not aware? There were certainly staff deeply troubled at the unethical behaviour of St Mungo’s. Given the justified fear retribution if they spoke out, they chose to raise their concerns through Unite.


Lack of ethical compass in senior management team


Unite is asked from time to time for assurances that the issues around information sharing and deportation have been resolved by agencies considering joint work with St Mungo’s. It remains the case that we are unable to give such assurances. Indeed, there is a worrying lack of organisational learning at the senior level of St Mungo’s.


Jack Jeffery, Unite branch secretary and a front-line homelessness worker commented:


Recent events at St Mungo’s are a disgraceful example of management bullying and we will support our fellow workers in St Mungo’s as a basic union principle. But there have been serious concerns across the homelessness sector and at all levels about a lack of ethical compass in the senior management team of St Mungo’s. This has been damaging for the sector and the homeless clients who must be our priority. It is time for commissioners to demand change at St Mungo’s. The staff team at St Mungo’s includes some of the most respected and dedicated professionals in the sector but they desperately need better leadership from the top of the organisation.




St Mungo’s was recently found guilty by an employment tribunal to have victimised a worker who raised issues of gender equality. The tribunal found the current HR director Helen Giles to be an unreliable witness. This finding is in line with Unite’s experience, and we will defend our members and reps against further victimisation.


It is not too late for Steve Douglas to draw back from an irresponsible conflict and to engage positively with Unite. He should be clear that Unite will support members in St Mungo’s in whatever action they are forced to take.


Paul Kershaw, Chair Unite housing workers LE1111 branch


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