1 December 1998
I went to the industrial tribunal recently over a matter of constructive dismissal, and only recently have got round to telling those persons I represented what happened. It is difficult to communicate with them once you have left the college, and - as I am no longer employed there and cannot use the internal mail - expensive.
If I was constructively dismissed because my inquisitive way and desire for democracy were considered a threat, I ought to make sure as many people as possible get to hear of it, so I am publishing the circular I am sending to ten people who I would expect to be interested within the college - some of whom might be those who would rather I didn`t send it at all.
Several people came to me after I had been elected to the Joint Negotiating Committee (with more votes than anyone else!) to tell me that they were very pleased I was elected because they thought I would challenge some of the unacceptable behaviour of the management. This is to tell you how things went.
I began to question mangagement wisdom at JNC meetings almost from the first, and suggested that we should have a new JNC election using a level pitch for the candidates, but nobody seemd to want to do that.
It was not long before a constructive dismissal commenced. It took the form of being regularly harrassed by the caretaker, having the rubbish bin removed (from a woodwork shop!) for weeks on end, and culminated in most of the materials for my classes being thrown out, the tools being thrown about, my cupboard being raided, students being insulted, and ended in my refusing to renew my contract unless I was given extra hours to make up the damage and a guarantee of no further harrassment.
No extra hours or guarantees were forthcoming, and so I didn`t renew my contract and instead took the college to the Industrial Tribunal on the 5th October, and this is the matter I am writing to report on - even though I no longer represent any of you I still feel there is a matter of principal here.
Along the way, I discovered a few things that ought to be of concern to you, and so I hope this will help you to recognise them.
One of the most important things I found out is that in 1984 Bromley agreed to inform all persons becoming redundant in advance, and advise them on their position with regard to employment rights, and that this was never done in connection with Bromley Adult college employees, who were just given less hours and left to find out for themselves. None did find out until it was too late to claim redundancy payments as far as I know. - because of the three month rule.
HOWEVER, although you only have three months with the industrial tribunal you have 6 years with the county court, and for various reasons you might be able to extend this. That would give most people till about July 2000 to make a claim (for substantial loss of money) against the Borough of Bromley (it may be that the county courts allow the time from when you first found out you had been diddled, like the industrial tribunal is supposed to do, so there might be more time availbale).I think a joint claim would be more likely to succeed, and it may be that you might like to suggest it to the secretive and not very effective NATFHE in case they might like to help you pursue it.
The industrial tribunal was a farce, but it allowed me to see Ian Fraser, Wendy Thomas and Fred the caretaker risk prosecution when they gave evidence, which was amusing. I ought to give you a run-down on it, because you will then know the kind of people you will have to deal with if you decide to pursue any claim. (The Borough solicitor came with them).
First to give evidence was Ian fraser, entirely plausiable to the last. He told us that the wood had been thrown out because of a fear of woodworm when in fact quite a lot of it had been kept - they just threw out the untidy bits. Furthermore, they kept the benches which are made of a particularly vulnerable type of pine, and the pine tool cupboards when they could have steel ones, and the tools, many of which have wooden handles, and used odd bits of wood from the timber store on the building work - so he doesn`t have much cred there. He also told us that the JNC election was for five members when it was for four (this means that there should be an election because of my vacating my place, but that would put them at risk of getting someone they don`t want elected, so I don`t suppose it will happen - you have democracy with the management making the decisions).
When Fred the caretaker took the stand, the Borough Solicitor interrupted him just before the bit where he would have said he was aware that he would be risking prosecution if he lied, thus removing what credibility he had. He went on to deny everything. He hadn`t put a stinkbomb in the cupoboard even though he was the only other person with a key, he hadn`t stolen anything, he hadn`t been told that without the wood my classes couldn`t run, he thought I was in competition with him because he once worked in the woodwork shop at Windsor and Newton(!), it was disgusting in my cupboard, but all he did was to go in there and stir up the contents a bit and then lock it again, etc. The question of an expensive overmantel that went missing was not discussed.
He was a thoroughly convincing witness.
Wendy Thomas resorted to a management technique that has been developed in recent years where whatever the evidence to the contrary if you keep on saying that something is so for long enough people will believe it is so. She was trying to persuade them that the college were offering me the same hours they had offered last year, which was not the case.
The panel were persuaded of this fundamental untruth despite the evidence the college had submitted showing it not to be so, and therefore I can report that this technique works.
I rather think at least two of those witnesses would be successful in politics.
George the caretaker was there, but being an entirely innocent party in the matter nobody wanted to ask him any questions. If they had elections for caretakers I think you`d do well to vote for him.
The Borough Solicitor patronisingly said he didn`t really understand what was the matter with Mr Harris - he had some kind of grievance against the college, but it was not quite clear what!
The whole day, whilst being a bit of an outing, was a shameful display of plausible lies, seedy behaviour and general dishonesty, destroying what little respect I had left for your management and the Borough solicitor, but when I discussed it with a solicitor I know she seemed unable to grasp what I was saying on the particular point of honesty. It suddenly became clear to me - it is now standard behaviour among managers to lie whenever it suits their need - and evidently standard among industrial tribunals to accept lies when it suits their need, the basic policy of their predefined decision having been made by the government of the day.
The panel at the industrial tribunal were one union man, one local businessman and one member of the CBI (for you inernational readers, this is the Confederation Of British Industry), so it was balanced in some way.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- There is paper to spare, and so I will tell you a few other things I have observed during my many years teaching at Bromley Adult College:
There was once a person teaching at the college who used to put up union notices if she thought they were of interest to people generally. She complained to me one day that every time she put up a union notice of any sort it was taken down by someone unknown within twenty four hours or so. This happened regularly from about 1993 up until the time when people like Ian Fraser found their jobs threatened, when suddenly Dave Ellis (Vice Principal) became the union rep and everyone was being exhorted to join NATFHE. From then onwards, there were union notices everywhere - and probably still are.
I believe Dave got a pretty good handshake (when he left - ed), whilst I don`t know what Freda got.
I have told you about the council`s agreement with regard to telling people when they were about to become redundant, but I haven`t told you that they also agreed to offer those people any suitable work that might be available to replace the work lost. I tried to get some of this work in about 1995/6, and Ian ignored all corresopondence, so I wrote to the chairman of board of governors, who ignored my letter, so I tried to use the council`s grievance procedure only to discover that it didn`t exist other than theoretically, whilst letters to the Education Dept were ignored.
All this resulted in a claim through the industrial tribunal in 1997, but of course as I had allowed them as much time as possible to respond I had no case because I hadn`t claimed within three months - the strategy of ignoring correspondence pays off , as does the strategy of answering correspondence without actually saying anything useful about the matter raised.
This matter could yet possibly be resolved through the county court, but as I would be asking for a very large sum they would probably resist in the same manner that they resisted in the constructive dismissal case.
They are not my managers any more but they are still yours. If you wish to talk about this matter further, my phone number and email are at the bottom of this page.
I cannot afford to send these three sheets to everybody, so I have made a random sprinkling, trying to make sure that those who supported me are amongst those sprinkled. If you know someone who might be interested, I would be most grateful if you would give them a copy if they don`t already hae one.
I`ll leave you with the question:
If major management decisions get made by the caretaker, does this improve or detract from the management of the college?
end of quote.
We are still redesigning The Other News From England. At last there are a few drawings (see below), and work has begun on putting together old articles form the early nineties. It will be somewhat sparse for some time yet
There is at least one new article this week, and articles on many subjects in earlier issues (which can be seen by clicking below).
Index of earlier issues.
The new cartoon was done when I was endeavouring to learn to use these dim-witted machines, and expresses both my exasperation and my fascination and affection for the subject. I`m sure you must have felt like that at some stage.
There are some other drawings too, and they work with my browser. The intention is that you will be able to download them, but I am still not quite sure how this is done. Presumably you just copy and paste into a graphics application.
I will be working to make the sheet music accessible (some people have complained!) next, and if I get one email saying it has worked I`ll put some more there.
The problem has been largely to do with file types.
I`ve been reading (these things do come to pas from time to time) a book written at the end of the sixties by a very good author called Gordon Rattray Taylor.
Mr. Taylor was one of those people who seem to have begun to make us all ecologically conscious, but it was a particular item in the book I was interested in.
He tells us that at the beginning of this century about five Sika deer were let loose on an uninhabited island in the Chesapeake, and that when an ethologist, John christian, went to have a look in the mid fifties their numbers had built up to nearly 300 (there must have been no predators). He was interested in the effect of numbers on population.
Between the middle fifties and the end of the fifties many of their population died off, and by the end of the fifties they had stabilised at about 80.
Autopsies revealed that most who died during that period of high mortality had overdeveloped adrenal glands, and John Christian concluded that they were dying not because of lack of food (there was plenty) but because of stress. I will make my own guess here, and suggest that it was probably the type of stress you get when you have to constantly guard your little bit of territory - overcrowding.
Mr. Rattray then goes on to suggest that humans must reach this stage in due course, and suggested about now for the sudden dropping off of numbers. If you live in England we seem overcrowded, and this idea seems likely, and probably in some other countries it seems much more likely, but if you live in the USA, which has fairly low population density it must seem very unlikely - but whatever else, there must come a time when numbers get to the stage where this happens if we don`t first check our own numbers.
This seems to give us a choice between going to war, behaving like Hitler or one of his modern-day equivalents (plenty of those about) or being a bit more sensible and looking for ways to control births. We have the means, of course, but we don`t seem to have the inclination, particularly those of us with a religion.
I tried to look at the other options, and found them too awful. Certainly, I know who I would choose to have exterminated if I was that way inclined and had the opportunity, and it may surprise you to know that it doesn`t include people like me - it couldn`t, otherwise I couldn`t get the job done. On the other hand, if I were Hitler I would have managed to kid myself that I was infinitely superior to those I was knocking off, and thus armed with a lie I would go ahead with impunity - until the rest of the world exterminated me.
I think we are probably all so familiar with that line of thought that I needn`t go any further, but perhaps a law making sex illegal in all but extreme and special circumstances might work? No? Well, then what about executing all children born who excede a legally allowed number (necessarily either two or one), or making all crime punishable with instant death (which wouldn`t be effective anyway unless one had even more bent convictions)?
I can`t think of anything else. We will have to wait and allow ourselves to be culled by our own stupidity, which is at least a tiny bit better than going to war - and certainly in some way `natural`.