What follows is not a full guide to representing members, but sets out some basic principles.
- Members must be able to turn to TSSA in confidence.
- Help members as much as you can with your experience and knowledge.
- Contact the TSSA Helpdesk for advice if you need to.
There are three ways in which you can represent members:
When a member has a complaint about a management decision or another workplace issue.
When a group of members, or perhaps all of your members, face a problem that will not be dealt with as part of the usual annual negotiations.
When a member is being disciplined by the employer, or they are worried they will be disciplined.
When dealing with individual grievances, it is important to remember that individual matters are often sensitive or even embarrassing for the member involved, and that you should deal with them on a confidential basis. Members have a right to expect that you will not discuss their business with anyone who is not involved.
You should clarify at the outset of any discussion with a member whether the information being shared is confidential or not. In particular you should make members aware of the circumstances, if any, under which information might be shared with a third party.
You should, wherever possible, seek the consent of the individuals concerned for the disclosure of information.
The first thing you will need to do when a member approaches you with a problem is to establish the facts, so you can decide what kind of problem it is. Remember that you will need to get as much background information as possible. The more time you spend gathering information at this stage, the easier any further action will be to undertake.
Some problems that seem at first to be "personal" and unrelated to work can lead to reps discovering issues that need to be dealt with through general negotiations.
For example, ill health and time off work may be due to a health and safety problem in the workplace. Or the fact that some members have trouble picking their children up from school might mean that the employer needs to consider more flexible working hours.
When you have decided what sort of problem it is and how to tackle it, you should make three things clear so the member knows you are being honest and are not being unsympathetic:
- explain that you will do your best, but you can't make promises of particular results – you don't want to raise false hopes.
- explain what you are going to do next, who you will approach and how long it may take.
- explain when and how you will report back to them.
When dealing with individual grievances, you will need to decide the following:
- does the member have a valid grievance?
- is management following current agreements?
- are there implications for other members?
- is the law being broken?
- are health and safety issues involved?
If you are unsure of the answers to any of these questions, it is often worth asking other reps if they have experienced the same problem before. If you are still unsure or if there is no-one else to ask where you work, the TSSA Helpdesk can advise you.
You should only take grievances further if that is what the member wants and if you think they have a valid argument. Advancing a grievance that you know is based on weak arguments wastes the member's time, your time and the time of the manager or managers involved.
If such a grievance case is rejected, the member may feel that TSSA has failed them and management may lose respect for your credibility as a rep.
If you do not think the member has a valid case, try to explain why and provide other options for improving the situation. If you have to tell them that they have no valid grievance under existing agreements, they are not going to be happy.
If you can add that you are going to survey other members to see if they want you to approach management to change the agreements, the member is more likely to respect your honesty and feel that at least their complaint has not been ignored.
If the disagreement involves an allegation of harassment of any kind, again you should contact TSSA as these cases are both sensitive and complicated.
Occasionally, you may come across grievances that involve disagreements between two TSSA members. In this case you should immediately contact the TSSA negotiator who deals with your company. This is because TSSA must provide representation for both sides.
As with a grievance case, if a member approaches you because they are being disciplined or they are scared they will be disciplined, you need to establish all the facts and make sure you understand the disciplinary procedure.
It is important that you make sure the member understands the possible consequences if the disciplinary hearing goes against them. In serious cases, these consequences could include dismissal.
Human nature means that you will need to be especially careful in finding out all the facts of the case. Someone who is facing a disciplinary charge is likely to remember the facts that support their case more easily than facts that are more uncomfortable.
You should try to talk to independent witnesses if you can, as management almost certainly will. You will also need copies of any witness statements taken by management, even if the statements have been made anonymously.
It is your responsibility to check that managers follow their own procedures properly. If they make mistakes they may try to argue that this can be dealt with on appeal. You should not accept this argument and should make a note of anything you believe was handled incorrectly so that if the case comes to an appeal the procedural mistakes can be raised by TSSA staff.
Don't let managers rush you into a disciplinary hearing. You are perfectly entitled to insist on having enough time to prepare your case properly. Remember – your member is innocent until proven guilty and has the right to go through a proper disciplinary process.
Tips for representing members
Contact your TSSA Negotiations Officer to agree any necessary training and development needs that you may have. Remember that shadowing experienced reps or paid officials can be useful.
Stay in touch
Always keep members informed about what is happening and what you intend to do next. Always inform members when and how you will report back to them.
Do your best but remember never to promise more than you can reasonably expect to deliver.
Call TSSA for help
Remember that the Helpdesk is a valuable source of assistance so, if in doubt, always contact them for advice.
Find out as much as you can
Always try to get as much supporting information as you need. The more time you spend initially gathering information the more effective you are likely to be.
Always listen carefully to members and management alike and wherever possible take notes.