Unison’s £49,000 payout over “three wise monkeys” racist allegation

The four people who won the payout from Unison

The four people who won the payout from Unison - Credit: Archant

Onay Kasab of Greenwich Unison, Glenn Kelly, secretary of Bromley Unison, Suzanne Muna, secretary of the Housing Corporation Unison branch and Brian Debus, chairman of Hackney Unison were awarded the payout after an employment tribunal.

Four union officials accused of racism in a row over a leaflet depicting the three “wise monkeys” have been vindicated after receiving a £49,000 payout.

They used the ancient proverb “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” a sketch of the three wise monkeys in a leaflet about union bosses ignoring members’ concerns, and circulated it at the union’s 2007 Brighton’s conference.

But those targeted accused them of a racist slur against a black member of their standing orders committee.

Under investigation and facing expulsion, the Socialist Party four - as they were dubbed because of their political affiliation - fought back and finally won the six year battle in an employment tribunal ruling last month.

Mr Kelly was awarded £15,000, Mr Debus and Mr Kasab received £12,000 and Ms Muna received £10,000.

The financial compensation follows a 2011 ruling that found the union leadership guilty of “unjustifiable” disciplinary action by barring them from holding office.

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Mr Debus, who suffered problems sleeping and stomach disorders because of the allegations, said the decision had come as a relief: “There has always been the implied allegations of racism, but the tribunal basically said no reasonable person could put that connotation on it.

“It was like a cloud not just for me but for all the members of the Hackney branch, it shows we were absolutely correct to take it further, a lot of people might have walked away and resigned, but we have been vindicated.”

Mr Kelly added: “Given that the average pay-out for a worker from a tribunal is about £4,000, the tribunal’s decision to award £49,000 in total to the four shows how serious the union’s actions were viewed.”

The court also awarded aggravated damages against Unison for its treatment of Mr Kelly saying: “That we are satisfied that the conduct of the respondent (Unison) amounted to high-handed, malicious and oppressive conduct and we decided in the case of Mr Kelly to award an additional award for aggravated damages.”

Agreeing the damages the court found all four activists to be “committed and dedicated trade unionists, elected by the members and who had devoted either the whole or a large part of their working life to advising and representing their members and their interests at regional and national level”.

The union tried to argue in the tribunal that the damage done was minimal as the group were all “Marxists and Socialist Party members and were used to the rough and tumble of political life”.

The court responded by saying: “We do not accept that the claimants’ political beliefs and or activities made them in some way impervious or immune to hurt caused by the action of the respondents”.

A spokesman for Unison said they were “disappointed” at the ruling and the level of the award. “We are also disappointed that our earlier offer to settle by a payment to the union’s own welfare charity, There For You, was rejected by the claimants,” she said.

“That charity supports UNISON members facing personal or financial hardship.”