Why is the FBU leadership peddling untruths about an important legal case?

flickr.com / staticgirl

by Paul Embery

ON 14 APRIL 2023, judgment was handed down in an appeal by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) against a finding by the employment tribunal that I had been unfairly dismissed by the union in relation to a speech I had given to a pro-Brexit rally. That tribunal, which was headed by a judge, found that the FBU leadership’s disciplinary case against me had amounted to a “witch-hunt” with a “pre-determined” outcome.

However, the appeal tribunal upheld the union’s appeal. As I explained in a statement after the appeal judgment had been handed down, the union’s appeal had rested entirely on the argument that I was an “office-holder” but not an employee, meaning that I had no right to claim unfair dismissal. In other words, the union’s appeal succeeded on a legal technicality over my employment status.

As I also said in that statement, “I trust that the FBU leadership will, in its reporting of the ruling, provide an honest account of the narrow grounds on which the appeal succeeded.”

Sadly, it took little more than an hour to discover that the leadership did not intend to be honest in its public statements about the matter. In a press release, the leadership said: “The Fire Brigades Union welcomes this judgment, which vindicates our arguments and actions in this case.”

This statement was plainly designed to give the impression that the appeal tribunal had considered the internal disciplinary case as a whole and concluded that the leadership had acted correctly throughout. In other words, the witch-hunt was not a witch-hunt; the outcome not pre-determined; and the leadership’s conduct not improper or unethical in any way.

The problem is, that statement was a fat lie. The appeal tribunal did not consider the merits of the internal disciplinary case – or the leadership’s “arguments and actions” – at all. It was never supposed to. That’s because the leadership purposely chose not to appeal against the actual reasons given by the original tribunal for finding that the dismissal was unfair. The leadership’s appeal was restricted solely to the narrow question of my employment status. And that is the only question that the appeal tribunal was therefore able to consider.

Anyone who doubts this should read the appeal judgment for themselves. The judgment states very clearly:

“There is no challenge [by the union] to the reasons given by the employment tribunal for finding that the dismissal was unfair … The facts and merits of the disciplinary case are not directly material to the issues before this [appeal] tribunal.”

So the leadership’s press release claiming that the appeal tribunal had vindicated their arguments and actions in this case can only be seen as a deliberate attempt to mislead. As a sympathetic FBU official rightly pointed out to me in a private message: if the appeal tribunal had rejected the union’s technical arguments over my employment status, the unfair dismissal finding would have stood.

FBU members will draw their own conclusions about why the leadership chose to peddle a blatant falsehood in its press release. It isn’t the first time they have misled members about my case. I cannot say I expect it to be the last.

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