|LAND REGISTRY: privatisation and victimisation go hand in hand|
To read the PCS union sponsored Alternative for the Land Registry go here.
Jane Brooke is one of those unsung people who the trade union movement relies upon. She was secretary of her PCS branch in the Land Registry in Weymouth and had an exemplary work record going back 31 years.
Brooke has a great deal of expertise in dealing with personal cases and fighting for her members' rights when they were in trouble.
But on Monday November 23 she was given five minutes to leave work. She had been sacked for allegedly making a false claim for compensation for repetitive strain injury caused by her work.
Her work involved, among other duties, drawing maps not with a pencil but with a mouse.
Her doctor believed she had RSI. The Department of Work and Pensions accepted she had an industrial injury. Her union branch and PCS as a whole believe her.
And her branch chairwoman Anna Hickman stated at the protest meeting held on Friday December 11: "I've met few people as honest as Jane."
In sacking Brooke, the management has deprived Weymouth PCS Land Registry members of an effective and hard-working advocate for their rights.
PCS members need such people as Brooke in the union's campaign to stop the Land Registry's attempts to demote the Land Registry from a public service to a tool of big business.
December's protest meeting was packed and the crowd overflowed into the car park. Brooke looked drawn and simply said: "We are going to fight this fight."
Talking afterwards Brooke described herself as a very private person who felt that her privacy had been grossly violated.
The Land Registry allegedly paid out £40,000 to Quantum Enquiries and Surveillance to film her and five of her colleagues who had put in similar claims. Schools, parks, shopping centres and even the gym Brooke's GP had advised her to attend were filmed.
It all seems completely over the top - until one has a look at what the Land Registry is trying to do.
It has launched what it calls its "accelerated transformation programme," which will close five offices - Portsmouth, Tunbridge Wells, Croydon, Stevenage and Peterborough - and move all staff out of the London head office to temporary accommodation while it decides what, if any, work should stay in London.
The programme also seeks to privatise what can be privatised and reduce the workforce by 1,500.
All this will be brought into place by the end of 2011, with the further threat of more office closures, privatisations and staff cuts over the following years to 2014.
PCS assistant general secretary Chris Baugh put the treatment of Brooke and her colleagues in context at the meeting by declaring: "The chase to meet productivity targets and the reliance on keyboard and mouse operations to complete tasks is placing our members at risk of RSI."
He described Land Registry's actions as "vindictive and callous."
Baugh explained that Land Registry sees itself as serving its customers who buy and sell land rather than as a public service and it is piling pressure on staff to increase productivity with targets and performance indicators, which mean that complex cases are left.
PCS sees RSI as a major problem and it is particularly prevalent in the Land Registry, although there are sufferers in all government departments and agencies.
A retired former branch member and RSI sufferer described the condition as the industrial ailment of the 21st century.
PCS group secretary Brian Shaw told the meeting that Land Registry often loses cases at industrial tribunals and is not in the habit of settling at ACAS.
However, this does not mean that its victims get their jobs back. As one of the other victims said: "The only thing we did wrong was to say it hurt."
The meeting heard from other union reps who had turned up in solidarity. Unison, FBU, NUJ and POA delegates all stated that management bullying was a factor in their work and the POA rep placed the blame on the new Labour government for its failure to repeal the Conservative anti-union legislation.
PCS argues that Land Registry's job is registering land carefully and accurately. It should be a public service.
An estimated 30-50 per cent of all land is still awaiting registration so there is plenty of work to do.
Meanwhile Land Registry creates the conditions whereby its staff get RSI and does its best not to pay for the suffering caused.
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