Exclusive: How the equality watchdog sacked a disabled army veteran and IRA bomb survivor by email

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Rebecca Hilsenrath: chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and leading the programme of staff cuts Pic credit: Douglas-Scott co.uK

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Donald Trump : You’re fired. Credit Giphy

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Late last year this blog featured the case of  57 year old Markus Caruana,  who works in corporate communications at the Birmingham office of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.To recap

He is a former flute player in the Corps of Drums with the Grenadier Guards.

Markus Caruana was unfortunate enough to have been both at the Guildford pub bombings in 1974 and the Chelsea Barracks bombing in 1981 which seriously injured regimental bandsmen from the Irish Guards.

He escaped unscathed in both instances but saw three of his friends killed in an IRA attack in Crossmaglen in Northern Ireland.

He left the army in 1985 to become a landscape gardener and then took advantage of a Unison sponsored education scheme to learn to read and write.

He had been a school refuser after being bullied and could hardly read or write or read music but was able to play his  flute because he had a natural memory for tunes.

In 2002 he secured a job with the Disability Rights Commission which later became part of the EHRC.

Sadly he lost his 75 per cent of his hearing and got  an incurable muscle wasting disease called Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) which affects the nervous system that supports muscles, often weakening the legs and feet.

The EHRC had enabled him to have a support worker so he could do his job there – but she is also facing redundancy now he has failed to retain his job.

Yesterday he  and five other disabled people was sacked by email by the EHRC and given 24 hours notice to clear his desk. He was one of ten people made compulsorily redundant by emails from executives from the Commission.

The decision led to a furious reaction from one of the main union representing staff,the PCS.

EHRC says the staff will receive pay in lieu of notice (PILON), but workers did not agree to this because it closes off the opportunity to seek redeployment at the commission or elsewhere in the civil service.

In a letter back to EHRC, the union states: “By imposing PILON you are cutting off this option and effectively consigning BME, disabled, women and trade union members to unemployment. There should only be PILON in cases where the individual concerned has agreed to it.”

Commenting on the cases, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “It’s absolutely reprehensible that dedicated staff have been sacked and told to clear their desks with a day’s notice.

“That this has happened at the government body charged with upholding human rights and fair treatment in our society is an absolute scandal and we will continue to fight it.”

My own take on it is this. It is quite clear that the head of the EHRC, Rebecca Hilsenrath, is a particularly vindictive person to take action like this – by making it difficult for these people to get other jobs in the civil service.

Her action reminds me a bit of the attitude taken by Donald Trump towards disabled people. I am sure she would make an excellent addition to his staff in Washington though I don’t know whether she would share his locker room talk or not.

I have also written an article for Tribune about the sackings and the future strikes.

The crisis at the heart of Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission

David Isaac Pinsent Masons

David Isaac: Chairing a fractured organisation with staff and management now at loggerheads.

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Rebeacca Hilsenrath: chief executive of the Equality and Human rights Commission Pic credit: Douglas-Scott co.uK

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Human rights – whether it is gay rights, racial discrimination, gender equality, equal pay or disability discrimination – is at the heart of many of the big issues facing modern Britain today.

It is therefore a tragedy that the organisation responsible for monitoring such issues is now a fractured body with management at loggerheads with staff and the main focus of a destructive policy of government cuts by people who appear to believe there is no such thing as society and these rights are not necessarily worth defending.

Today this body came within a hair’s breadth of facing strike action by a frustrated and alienated staff  and the action was only averted by talks at Acas. Contrary to the popular image civil servants do not take strike action lightly – it is only a measure of last resort. So when two unions, the Public and Commercial Services Union and Unite, decided to take such action, things have reached crisis point.

Its crisis is not surprising when a body like this has suffered cut after cut until it is a shadow of its former self and people – including the United Nations – are questioning whether it can have any meaningful role in defending people’s rights.

The  gaping divide can be seen between the  perceptions of management and staff over what is happening there at the moment – I did an article on the forthcoming strike for Tribune last Friday.(unfortunately not on line at the moment) and one on the great divide between management and worker’s salaries for Sunday Mirror earlier which is the subject of a dispute by the Commission ( also not on line at the moment).

The present cuts whereby nineteen of the first 26 posts due to be axed are held by staff in the three lowest paid grades, means the government body responsible for protecting vulnerable workers is itself disproportionately targeting older, ethnic minority and disabled staff. Another 50 are expected to follow.

The union and staff reaction to this is shown by a quote from Mark Serwotka, the genetal secretary of PCS, “The commission is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on consultants while getting rid of low paid staff who provide daily support to victims of discrimination.

“It is sickening that as division and hate are being fostered in our communities in the wake of the Brexit vote, this Tory government is cutting the staff whose job it is to combat this.”

The management view is the opposite.

A Commission spokesperson said:“It is disappointing that the union have decided to take this action. We have made every effort to work constructively with them on our proposals as we implement our new way of working. We have listened to them throughout the process and acted on a number of their suggestions.

“Like every public sector organisation we have had cuts to our budget.  We need to make savings and we need to change how we work to deliver our strategic plan.  We are confident that any action will not affect the important work we do in protecting and improving people’s rights.”

“We have a very diverse workforce when compared to the wider public and private sectors.  The operating model was consulted on exhaustively with all staff, transparently and with a focus on the most effective structure for the Commission rather than the individuals in the posts affected. In addition to this, there will be a stronger focus on new training and mentoring schemes to support more minority ethnic and disabled staff into leadership positions.”

Given human rights is a central issue in Britain I have decided to forensically examine what is exactly going on at the EHRC. Can the top management justify its large salaries at the taxpayers’ expense? Is running the EHRC just a career option for an elite group of officials and a millionaire lawyer ?  What issues are the EHRC  really taking up and are they effective in doing so? Who are the people they want to sack from their organisation? Is the EHRC  really value for money?:Do they practice what they preach to private industry and the public services?

Fortunately  I have seen a large volume of material from a wide variety of sources – far too much to put in one blog or article – that  allows me to look at such issues. Over the next few weeks I intend to examine this and put it to the EHRC and other scrutiny bodies, like Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee, which is preparing to examine whether the EHRC is doing a proper job.

 

Racist and Cruel: The nasty world of the Equality and Human Rights Commission

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The body that is supposed to protect the rights of  ethic minorities, the disabled and women from discrimination and unequal pay is about to behave like some of the worst employers it likes to attack.

Faced with an edict for cuts from wealthy Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan (  a former corporate lawyer with  City  firm  Travers Smith whose partners earn £935,000 a year) millionaire chairman David Isaac  ( a partner in law firm Pinsent Masons) is about to sack some 30 of the lowest paid workers at the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The decision borders in my view on being  racist and cruel since the very victims will, according to the unions who have access to the redundancy list, be black and/or disabled and have difficulty getting jobs elsewhere. I have written about it this week in Tribune magazine here.

The people administrating the cuts are all wealthy people – either on ” off pay roll ” contracts worth up to £900 a day so they can minimise the tax they pay to the government or highly paid executives like Rebecca Hilsenrath ( £105,000 a year as chief executive – a pay rise of £10,000 in the last year but £30,000 a year less than her male predecessor) after she moved from being chief legal officer for the EHRC. She lives I notice in an expensive part of Hertfordshire like me. She seems to have moved a long way from her commitments given in this interview with a recruitment magazine three years ago.

They will, of course, be totally unaffected by any cuts and will continue to live a very comfortable life. This will be a world away from the people they want to sack who  are already suffering from the cruel policies of this government.Employers will not want the bother of giving disabled people  a job if they can get a fit person to do it.

The policy also has a much wider effect since these people are the very  workers who take up nitty gritty case work that can bring justice for ordinary people who face discrimination on racial grounds,unequal pay,  sacked for being pregnant, or for being gay. In other words it is bad news for ordinary people trying to get justice ( the wealthy friends of the lawyer chairman  and chief executive can afford to employ a lawyer).

Two unions at the EHRC – Unite and the Public and Commercial Services union – are furious about the redundancies which are part of an overall cut of 20 per cent (may be 30 per cent)  being imposed by Nicky ­Morgan, Education Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities.

In a letter to Maria Miller, chair of the Women’s and Equalities Select Committee, Unite national officer Siobhan Endean said the cuts would turn the EHRC into a “remote, inaccessible think tank.”

She added:  “It is difficult for us to see how the commission can implement a new operating model and fulfil its functions effectively on £16.8 million a year when the Government concluded in 2012 that it needed £30 million a year.”

Of course the Commission disagree . A spokesman said:

“While we do not comment on the detail of leaks, our business plan sets out our intention to develop and implement a new operating model this year which will ensure we have the right structure, people and processes in place to deliver our ambitious plans to tackle discrimination and promote equality of opportunity and human rights.

“We know already that we will need to make significant savings. It is important we involve staff as early as possible. Responsible leadership is about facing up to future challenges not ducking them. Our operating model can help us deliver more impact as well as help us manage difficult change.”

Nice sounding words but I don’t believe them. I think the EHRC is becoming part of the new nasty Britain. It will issue fine words but do nothing practical about the plight of people  because it won’t have the staff to do it. It is all part of turning the country into a place where the wealthy feel comfortable and the  rest have to scavenge to survive. The only added twist is that the well paid people at the top of this pyramid at the ECHR are being paid out of ordinary people’s taxes.