‘It’s a sham’ - union accused of keeping leader in post despite law breach

NASUWT’s appointment of its former general secretary on an acting basis after she overstayed her term of office is a “sham”, it has been claimed.

Richard Harris, a former NASUWT employee representing former executive member Susan Parlour in her complaint against the union, told a hearing of the Certification Officer today that the union was warned as early as August last year that it needed to hold an election to replace Chris Keates.

NASUWT admitted today that it breached union law by allowing Keates to continue serving beyond June 3, the anniversary of her election in 2014. Union law states general secretaries must seek re-election every five years.

But Parlour and Harris claim an enforcement order is still needed to remove Keates from office, which they allege she continues to hold illegally.

Earlier today, they union’s honorary treasurer Russ Walters told the hearing that national officers had “incorrectly” assumed Keates could serve for an extra six months because she was due to retire.

But in his submission this afternoon, Harris said it was “absurd that an organisation which focuses significantly on employment and trade union law had a failure of understanding in this area”.

“We can see that national officers’ meetings are attended by Chris Keates and [deputy general secretary] Patrick Roach, both of whom are intelligent and capable people. There is no way they sat there…since Susan Parlour raised her concerns in August 2018 and nobody discussed the matter.

“I say it is unbelievable the NASUWT turned a Nelson’s eye to this and continued for months and months without realising there was something they needed to check.”

He described the current arrangement, in which Keates is serving as acting general secretary until her successor is elected, as “a sham”, adding that “nothing whatsoever has changed apart from the frequent but not consistent use of acting in her title”.

”Keates is acting up because they failed to hold an election. They didn’t fail in ignorance, because the need for an election was brought to their attention on many occasions.”

But Stuart Brittenden, acting for the NASUWT, said the union had given a “frank explanation” that it had been “labouring under a misapprehension”.

“The short point is we say that it’s a matter for [the certification officer] to decide whether or not the union’s reason is genuine as to why it didn’t hold an election in time.

“A bad reason or one borne out of ignorance can nevertheless be a genuine one.”

He said it was “quite clear” from reading the minutes of the executive’s meeting on June 7 that Keates’s continuation in the role was a “temporary arrangement”.

He added that Parlour had accepted “there was nothing to stop the union from drawing on any other individual either internal or external to act as general secretary”.

“The only difference is the identity of the individual the NEC appointed. We still don’t understand the distinction and why it’s considered to be a continuing breach.

“The key question is whether the union genuinely considers that Chris Keates is acting on an interim basis, and if it does, it’s not a sham, it’s a genuine arrangement.”

Certification officer Sarah Bedwell is expected to announce her decision within three weeks.

She told the hearing it is in her power to issue an enforcement order requiring the union to remedy any breach and to ensure the same issue does not occur in future.