TSSA: Cortes remained employed despite retirement after harassment allegations

Katie Neame

The TSSA has revealed that former general secretary Manuel Cortes remained in the employment of the union despite having announced his retirement last year following the emergence of allegations of sexual harassment against him.

The transport union said today the union’s executive committee (EC) was made aware that Cortes was still in its employment this week following Helena Kennedy’s inquiry into sexual harassment and bullying within the union, which published its report on Wednesday.

The union said in a statement: “This was not previously known to the EC. In light of the report, the importance of which the EC takes very seriously, and to ensure that full, appropriate and effective steps are taken arising from its findings, the former general secretary has been suspended whilst matters are investigated.”

The TSSA said it is committed to taking “comprehensive, considered and meaningful action” in response to Kennedy’s report and apologised “unreservedly” to those affected. It announced today that five senior members of staff named in the report have been suspended, including Cortes.

The inquiry was launched in September after the allegations against the former general secretary emerged. The Guardian reported that Cortes has been accused of unwanted touching and demands for kisses from at least two women.

Cortes has denied any wrongdoing and apologised for any hurt caused by his behaviour. The union announced his retirement in October last year, with deputy general secretary Frank Ward taking over as interim general secretary.

Kennedy’s report concluded that there has been “sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying” within the TSSA and that the “leadership and culture has enabled these behaviours through wilful blindness, power-hoarding and poor practices”.

The Labour peer said: “It gave me no pleasure… to uncover a series of appalling incidents, alongside leadership and management failings in the TSSA.

“These incidents included inappropriate and sexual touching, sexual assault, coercive and manipulative behaviour, violent and disrespectful language, humiliation and denigration of members of staff, reps and members of the executive committee (EC). Some of this behaviour was actually witnessed – or heard – directly by me.”

Kennedy said she also heard evidence of “failings in due process, natural justice and governance”, adding: “Sometimes these failings have been all the more shocking for the obvious lack of common sense or oversight that seems to have infiltrated the organisation’s senior decision-making.

“My impression is of a concentration of absolute power in a very small number of hands, with little or no scrutiny.” She revealed that more than 50 individuals came forward voluntarily to meet her and said only two “had something positive to
say about the culture at TSSA”.

She wrote: “From the remaining contributors, the words that were used to describe the culture included toxic, dysfunctional, worn-down, vindictive, fearful, sexist, misogynistic, racist, homophobic, embarrassing, ‘mafia-like’, ‘in freefall.’”

The TSSA said the EC had accepted the report’s findings “in full” and said it would put in place an administration to lead the union at this “critical point” with the aim of implementing “widespread cultural change”.

The union said: “The TSSA is committed to taking comprehensive, considered and meaningful action to address its findings. Given the seriousness and complexity of the findings, this will take deep and careful consideration of the way forward.”

It continued: “The union is aware that, as is always the case when bullying and harassment has occurred, that there will have been victims of such conduct.

“The union wishes to apologise unreservedly to all of those who have been bullied, harassed or affected and is committed to understanding what has happened to them and to take all appropriate steps in response.”

Its president and treasurer stepped down following the publication of the report, as recommended by Kennedy. The union said its interim president and treasurer had led an all-staff meeting on Thursday in which they “outlined the views of the EC, expressed solidarity and sympathy with staff and offered ongoing support”.

Commenting on the report’s publication on Wednesday, TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said: “Sexual harassment and bullying have no place in the trade union movement or any workplace. The TUC believes the women who came forward to share their experiences.

“I’m pleased the TSSA has committed to act on Helena Kennedy’s recommendations and have asked the TSSA to meet with me and the TUC president to discuss next steps. This report must lead to genuine culture change. The union movement must be a place where women feel safe and supported.”

More from LabourList


We provide our content free, but providing daily Labour news, comment and analysis costs money. Small monthly donations from readers like you keep us going. To those already donating: thank you.

If you can afford it, can you join our supporters giving £10 a month?

And if you’re not already reading the best daily round-up of Labour news, analysis and comment…