Sex harassment claims show why MPs’ staff must be granted union recognition – Watson’s letter to Commons watchdog

This is the full letter sent by Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, to Marcial Boo, chief executive of IPSA, the parliamentary watchdog.

Dear Mr Boo,

For many years the parliamentary branch of Unite the Union have been arguing for official recognition from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA).

One of the benefits of being part of a union is their specialist knowledge and experience of dealing with misconduct and abuse of power, including incidents of sexual harassment and abuse. In light of the revelations of recent days, the issue of union recognition and the representation and confidential support this can ensure, has become all the more urgent.

Unite the Union represent hundreds of staff working across parties based both in the Palace of Westminster and constituency offices.

In the past it has been argued that the MP is the employer and therefore there is no need for IPSA to officially recognise Unite the Union’s parliamentary branch for employment and collective bargaining purposes. However, whilst the MP is the employer, IPSA’s role in overseeing employment practices has grown in recent years. I understand that the salaries of staff employed by MPs after 7 May 2010 will only be paid by IPSA if the following conditions are satisfied:

  •          The member of staff is employed to do work that complies with one or more of the job descriptions published by IPSA;
  •          The member of staff’s salary is within the relevant range published by IPSA for the job description in question;
  •          A contract of employment that complies with the model contract of employment published by IPSA from time to time has been signed by the relevant parties.

As IPSA now provides guides on pay scales, job descriptions and standard contracts that must be used to ensure salary payment, it is only right that IPSA formally negotiate these employment policies with an official trade union parliamentary branch representing the interests of the workforce.

Issues of pay, job descriptions and model contacts directly affect our members of staff. Like other workforces, through their trade union, they should have direct representation in the discussions and negotiations that take place.

The union would also be in a position to negotiate the inclusion of appropriate bullying and harassment procedures within contracts. Revelations in the recent days as well as debate in the Commons chamber has made clear that there is an urgent need for this. Unite have specialists in this field that can assist members of staff in procuring contracts that ensure their safety and security and make sure their voices are heard.

This issue of recognition was raised in the house today by the Member of Parliament for Sheffield Heeley, Louise Haigh, during the urgent question debate. Louise rightly pointed out the inequality between parliamentary staff who benefit from a recognition agreement with Unite, and MPs’ staff who do not benefit from a similar agreement. The leader of the house [Andrea Leadsom] agreed to meet with Unite to discuss this issue and I am therefore copying this letter to the leader as well as Mr Speaker.

Please reconsider as a matter of urgency the request from the parliamentary branch of Unite the Union for official recognition.

Yours sincerely,

Tom Watson MP

Deputy leader of the Labour Party

MP for West Bromwich East.

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