ALL three defeated candidates in the re-election of Unison general secretary Dave Prentis launched a challenge to the result at a three-day hearing yesterday.
Mr Prentis was returned with 49.4 per cent of the vote but Unison local government head Heather Wakefield and branch secretaries John Burgess and Roger Bannister have all complained to the Certification Officer that the union breached its election procedures.
Mr Burgess also alleges a breach of the law, and Ms Wakefield and Mr Bannister complain of broken rules.
The complaints centre on allegations that paid Unison staff campaigned for Mr Prentis using union resources and during their paid hours.
The parties say that at a meeting “organised and attended by Unison officials” in September last year staff were briefed on “how to campaign for the re-election of David Prentis.”
James Godfrey, a junior official present at the September meeting, told the hearing that the meeting was “compulsory” and that workers had been told to use a “codeword” of “special chocolate biscuits” if they wanted more campaign leaflets, which he said was “indicative of subterfuge.”
The complainants also argue that Unison officials working on “Team Dave” breached rules and procedures in emails sent out to campaign contacts also working for the union.
They cite emails sent out to members by Unison branches and regions stating that Mr Prentis had been nominated and expressing the reasons why. They say this was a breach of election procedures at the time — though these procedures were amended during the election period.
At the hearing yesterday, Antony White QC, acting for Unison, invoked multiple instances of branches stating their reasons for nominating a candidate in communications to members, including instances where they had done so in support of the challenging candidates.
“All of the candidates do reflect a practice and interpretation of the rules where those branches not only nominate candidates but give a brief summary of reasons,” he said.
Ms Wakefield said she was “shocked” by the emails from Team Dave and said there appeared to be “no wall” between the duties of staff as employees of the union and their campaigning activities.
A Unison spokeswoman said: “The union is resisting the complaints and is confident of its legal position. Unison respects the right of the Certification Officer to make her judgement and will not make any comment pending that decision.”