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  • RogerKline

Not in my name

 I have been a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts for a decade.

Some months ago, I raised concerns on social media about the RSA’s response to this interview in the Observer on 09 October 2022

“Ruth Hannan, the RSA’s outgoing head of policy and participation and IWGB member, said the RSA was being hypocritical. “The RSA has done a huge amount of work over the past few years on the future of work and what good work looks like – and we’ve given the IWGB an award”, she said. “But the RSA is telling the world one thing, and doing another”.

"Hannan, who is leaving after more than three years but remaining an RSA fellow, said many of the society’s illustrious former and current fellows would be shocked by its approach to union rights. “They joined the RSA because it is open, pioneering, enabling and optimistic. They would be disappointed to hear we’re not living our values – and that we’ve made life so hard for staff. We are letting down our very high historical reputation”.

My concern was not with the interview but with the RSA’s response.

Ruth Hannan had been active in trying to get the union recognised by the RSA, and brought a claim for detriment for engaging in trade union activity.

The next day, after the interview, Ruth Hanna received a letter headed ‘Immediate termination of employment’.

It stated that the Claimant (Ruth Hannan) is not required to attend work for the remainder of her notice period and that she will no longer have access to work systems and premises with immediate effect. The letter says that the Respondent (the RSA) has serious concerns about the comments published in the press.

The Tribunal noted that the RSA had previously given the IWGB an award for unionising workers in the gig economy. The RSA response to her statement to the Observer would seem to any fair-minded person to confirm precisely what Ruth Hannon was alleging. The RSA response to the interview (Para 7.2 of the judgement) included:

“such matters as being cut off in the middle of a Teams meeting with a colleague immediately after receipt of the Respondent’s letter of 10 October 2022, being suddenly barred from access to the SharePoint and email systems; being unable to fulfil pre-arranged meetings and handover activities or to communicate her non-attendance to others; the shock, distress and upset at the tarnish to her professionalism, career and reputation at leaving tasks incomplete; the need to inform her new employer about the early termination and the anxiety and uncertainty as to whether this might jeopardise her new job; the distress at being unable to take proper leave of colleagues and external contacts and feeling she had let everyone down by not leaving things in the best order at her departure.”

The RSA then spent some of my subscription on a fancy lawyer who tried various legal ruses to suggest the case should not be heard at all as it had no prospects of success or alternatively that the claim, if heard , was a misunderstanding of the law on trade union activities.

The Judge would have none of it. He rejected the management claim and the ET decided that Ruth Hannan was was unfairly dismissed for an automatically unfair reason pursuant to S152 of the Trade Union Labour Relations Act 1992 and that she should be awarded compensation

Hannan said: “I feel a deep sense of relief at the ruling. Knowing that my reputation and my professionalism had been tarnished was incredibly painful. To be able to do this one small thing that will help other workers feel safer in their fight to have stronger rights in the workplace is worth the stress I’ve endured.”

IWGB members at the RSA recently staged their first strike in the RSA’s 270-year history after rejecting a £1,000 pay rise, which averages at 2.5% across the board. The IWGB said in a statement: “Ruth’s legal victory has only strengthened our members’ resolve to win the ongoing pay dispute, and has given them confidence and energy to transform the RSA into an organisation that respects and values their work.”

Given its professed values I await a statement from the RSA acknowledging it got this wrong and confirming it will recognise the union Ruth Hannan represented.

To do otherwise would suggest it operates to precisely the double standards Ruth Hannan suggested and uses fellows subscriptions for purposes they were not intended for.

 Roger Kline OBE FRSA is Research Fellow at Middlesex University Business School

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