Bristol IWW defends whistle blowers and free speech in Bristol City Council

In March 2018 a worker employed in Child Protection for Bristol City Council (BCC) was suspended from his post. He was charged with issues under the code of conduct, and most of the first set of allegations against him related to a closed Labour Party Facebook page. The group are made up of labour activists, who regularly discuss policy and procedure in BCC. The worker was conversing with a union shop steward about the Walter Ayles anti-war artwork. This had been taken down after orders from BCC. But after an outcry, the Council had to apologise, and the artwork was replaced.

The facebook posting had been given to the council by Mayor Marvin Rees. Therefore, rather than just speaking to the Labour Party member, he tried to get them dismissed from their post in Child Protection. He also, by his actions, closed down a Labour Party facebook group, and shut down free speech concerning BCC’s activities. Furthermore, he may have breeched rights of members under data protection legislation. All in all, Mayor Rees has attacked his own party members, and stopped them discussing his own policies. Hardly a beacon of democracy, and more will be forthcoming about this. Probably just prior to his reselection attempts.

Marvin failed to get the activist sacked for this, but then BCC forwarded more allegations, and tried to refuse our worker trade union support. The Head of Workforce, Mr John Walsh, wrote in an email that the IWW secured that the caseworker must be “shut down”. Hardly in line with the ethos of an open and transparent disciplinary process. Walsh carried on in his attempts to carry on without the FW having representation, until BCC employed an expensive consultant. This consultant had to explain to Walsh that he could not do this, and also, he had to follow his employer’s own policies. This consultant even had to explain to Walsh what “will” meant, in the context of employment legislation; unbelievable when you consider that this person’s wages equate to a couple of libraries being kept open.

The other allegations revolved around a twitter account, held by the Bristol Citizen. The Citizen regularly criticises BCC’s officers, councillors and policies. The democratic Mayor and his officers cannot stand this and were determined to prove that our worker was the Citizen. One small problem, they did not have a shred of proof, not a smidgen, absolutely bugger all. Their main “proof” was that it was common knowledge in the Public Relations Office, and the Mayor’s Office, that the worker was the Bristol Citizen. Come the day they could not supply a single statement, or witness. The IWW contacted the Bristol Citizen, who did provide a statement, and some interesting information.

Whilst this incompetent mess could be seen as the council just being completely out of their trees, the worker does have some history with BCC. In 2012 he whistle blew that a six figure some was missing from Bristol markets. This figure could build a children’s centre, or similar. Rather than a full investigation, he lost his job and was lucky to be redeployed. To this day, the money is still missing and there has not been any disciplinary process, other than against the whistle blower. No other FWs in the council have had to put up with this level of incompetence relating to disciplinary. So we can only conclude that these bizarre allegations, and the victimisation that followed, were due to him being a whistle blower. He even phoned the Council’s whistle blower’s helpline, to get an answer phone, and no help.

Our worker is made of stern stuff though, and he had the support of the best Union in the world. After 8 ½ months on suspension, 15 allegations, the employment of 2 external consultants, and hundreds of officer’s hours, all at a great cost to the taxpayers of this city; he won his hearing, as everything was unfounded. He will go back to his Child Protection role, supporting vulnerable children in our city. But we are not finished. There are serious questions to be answered, both from the Mayor, but also Mr Walsh. He started by trying to deny the workers his trade union rights, interfered in the case, and even instructed the worker’s witnesses not to engage. Furthermore, the Bristol Citizen tells us that he has history. He was involved in the sacking of several whistle blowers in the Wirral. The Citizen has tweeted this, and the IWW will be investigating further. We do not need these people in our City. We need proper, transparent public services, run by a democratic council. If they cannot do this, we will.

~Steve Mills, National Case Worker, Bristol IWW


Text and image via Bristol IWW, mildly edited