UNISON and unions' wider role
A UNISON case study

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Page 3: Trade Union action

UNISON does not confine itself to promoting changes in the law. It will campaign for workers and members in many instances. It helps to provide legal advice and support for legal actions. It also advises members on individual and collective grievances.

One example of the union's success is when, in June 2004, it won a total of £225,000 in compensation for 29 cleaning and catering workers. In 1998 they lost their jobs when a private contractor took over at a hospital group in Liverpool. However, the contractor had then advertised these jobs, but with poorer pay and conditions.

UNISON argued that the original workers should have been retained on their existing terms and conditions of employment. The Court of Appeal eventually heard the case and found in favour of the 29 workers. Had they been left to fight their own corner without union support, they would never have been able to afford either the legal advice or the time required.

UNISON feels that businesses should not be able to continue with practices that put workers' health and even lives at risk. One change for which UNISON has long argued is for businesses to be made legally responsible for deaths caused by a firm's carelessness or poor practice. The union is working to have a law enacted that creates an offence of 'corporate manslaughter'.

This campaign began in 1988 when a young student was crushed to death by a mechanical loading claw on his first day at work as a dock labourer. Even though the firm involved could be prosecuted for negligence and for health and safety failures, courts were unable to convict any particular person or persons within the business for causing the young man's death.

A government promise to introduce such a law was finally obtained at the September 2004 policy forum. A draft Parliamentary Bill was due to be introduced before the end of 2004. Drafting has proved difficult. There is little point in passing a law that courts find impossible to operate because of a lack of clarity and precision.

UNISON | UNISON and unions' wider role