Second whistleblower comes forward over ‘hush money’ payments at FBU head office

IN JUNE, WE published a blog which contained whistleblower testimony revealing how a ‘toxic’ working environment had taken hold at the head office of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and how, over many years, several of the union’s employees had received secret pay-offs in return for signing non-disclosure agreements (also known as ‘gagging clauses’). Some of these employees had made allegations of bullying and, in certain cases, had planned legal action.

It appears that senior figures of the union acted in virtual secrecy over these matters. Much of the information was withheld even from the union’s executive council.

Last week, the story reached the pages of Private Eye magazine. (For the record, nobody from Campaign for a Democratic FBU passed the story to the magazine, and we were not contacted prior to its publication.)

Since the piece appeared in the magazine, we have been approached by a second whistleblower. This person was a former employee of the FBU. They confirmed that the details contained in our original blog, and in the Private Eye article, were accurate. They told us that they, too, had received a confidential pay-off and signed a non-disclosure agreement after complaining about mistreatment. They also passed us a list of names of other former employees who, to their certain knowledge, had also received secret pay-offs in return for signing non-disclosure agreements. This list tallied almost completely with the names given to us by the original whistleblower. We have spoken in confidence to some of those identified on the lists, and all confirmed that the information, as it pertained to them, was correct.

Campaign for a Democratic FBU has previously called on the leadership of the union to commission an independent review into the affair. Today, we repeat that call. There must be a full and transparent examination of the facts, and members must be told who knew what, and when. Both whistleblowers confirmed to us that they would be willing to participate in such a review, and to disclose all relevant information, if the FBU leadership were to lift the gagging clause enshrined in their severance agreements.

Non-disclosure agreements are very controversial instruments. Many trade unions, as well as the TUC itself, have expressed deep concern about their use in the workplace, believing that they allow employers to sweep bad practice under the carpet.

When we published the original blog two months ago, we invited FBU leaders to deny the claims contained within it. They did not do so. Neither, it seems, have they responded to the article in Private Eye. (It should be noted that respected magazines like Private Eye do not print these types of stories without first running things past their lawyers and making sure their claims are well-founded.)

All of this means that very serious questions are now stacking up for the FBU leadership.

  • Why was such a toxic working environment allowed to take hold inside the union?
  • How many employees left the union after signing some kind of severance agreement?
  • In how many cases did the agreement contain a non-disclosure (‘gagging’) clause?
  • How many employees who signed gagging clauses had made complaints about mistreatment?
  • What is the total sum spent on severance agreements between the FBU and departing employees?
  • Why was much of this information withheld from the rest of the union, including the executive council?

We believe it is incumbent on current members of the executive council, and other officials, to press for urgent answers to these questions. There is clear evidence to show that, over a long period, vast sums of members’ money were secretly paid out in the form of ‘hush money’ to buy the silence of a string of employees, some of whom had made serious allegations against senior officials of the union. Yet, astonishingly, members of the executive council were largely kept in the dark while all of this was going on.

The most senior officials of the FBU have been caught freelancing in the most unacceptable manner. For the good of our union, these revelations cannot be ignored. All trade unions have a duty to uphold the highest employment standards, and to be open and honest about how they use members’ money.

This scandal isn’t going away. Trade union leaderships have been brought down for less. It’s time for FBU leaders to come clean.

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