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Monday, August 09, 2010 

The Public and Commercial Services Union gives the OK to the "grant monkey".

On Louise Perrett's first day working for the UK Border Agency in Cardiff, a manager stated that if it was up to him, he would take all of those claiming asylum and whose cases he was deciding "outside and shoot them". None of those in the office, another colleague said, were "very PC. In fact, everyone is the exact opposite." You don't, of course, have to be "PC" or even sympathetic towards those you're working with as long as the decisions you make are on the basis of the evidence available and not coloured by political prejudice. It doesn't however inspire confidence that such independent and carefully considered judgements were being made that whenever an asylum claim was accepted the person responsible for OKing the case had a stuffed toy gorilla placed on their desk known as the "grant monkey".

As it turns out that was the only allegation made by Perrett after she went public with her misgivings about the work being carried out by the UKBA in Cardiff which was fully substantiated. This wasn't though because Perrett was telling lies: instead, as the investigation into her claims admitted, it was due to how the Public and Commercial Services Union had "circulated advice" to their members all but urging them not to cooperate with the UKBA's professional standards unit's inquiry. Or as the union's Twitter account has it, the only response seemingly from the union to do with the report, PCS merely advised members to seek representation before going into any meeting". Representation which presumably involved telling them to take the fifth.

For an union which has an entire section on its website dedicated to every form of equality under the sun, it does seem somewhat strange that it made such a recommendation to its members when such serious allegations had been made against them. It boasts of being the fifth-largest union in the country, of campaigning for "equality in the workplace and beyond", although not it would seem when it would involve equality for those seeking refuge from persecution. Then again, Perrett was apparently advised if a case was "difficult", to simply refuse it and "let a tribunal sort it out", so the chances of many such decisions being made by front-line members seems to have been low in the first place.

Whether lessons will have been learned from the investigation into Perrett's experiences remains to be seen. The most concrete recommendation made involved "considering making it a disciplinary offence for failing to challenge inappropriate behaviour", the kind of sanction which would make anyone think twice before acting in a way similar to that which Perrett found to be the norm. Anyone expecting that perhaps the union might step into the breach and discipline members involved in such behaviour or even expel them, to provide a disincentive which the UKBA itself seems disinclined to set up would be doubly disappointed.

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From the report:

There was a concern that the PCS union had circulated advice to their members not to co-operate with any requests from the PSU for information from staff outside of those directly invited to interviews. It was not possible to establish if this directly affected the investigation, or whether any individuals who choose not to come forward have been affected by this advice.

I don't think that's inconsistent with what PCSU's Twitter says. Not very helpful by any means, but not as obstructive as the Guardian piece suggests.

(Report's here if you've not seen it: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/aboutus/reports/)

Are you saying that a Union's first duty is not to defend its members but instead to grovel for forgiveness whenever there's a bit of liberal pearl-clutching?

And it doesn't strike you as odd that the press are happy to pick up on a whistleblower story when it allows them to have a go at a Union.

I realise now that the mess of the asylum system isn't the fault of successive Governments, as I'd thought, but in fact entirely the fault of a couple of misanthropic scrotes working at the UKBA.

I normally really enjoy your work, but this is very poor. What Union are you a member of, "leftist"?

No, I'm not saying that at all. And indeed, one of the basic tenets of any justice system worthy of the name is the right not to incriminate yourself, and the union is fully entitled to tell its members not to cooperate.

When however such allegations have been made, and they're serious enough in this case to suggest that the work they were doing was being affected, the least the union could have done was issue guidance to the members in question about what's expected of them if they wish to remain in the union. Since when, after all, has being in an union removed a member's responsibilities to carry out a job without letting personal prejudice potentially get in the way?

I also extremely doubt that the Groan of all papers is going to use such a story as an excuse to bash unions.

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