Equity in clear over rule change to deal with racist members

Claims that a rule-change referendum breached Equity’s own regulations have been dismissed following an investigation.

The referendum was aimed at allowing Equity to tackle racist members.

The independent certification officer, who is responsible for ruling on alleged breaches of trade union rules, has dismissed two separate complaints from members Madhav Sharma and Dave Eager.

Equity’s referendum result-ed in the union amending its rules so the right of a member to express personal or political beliefs is removed where they have been found to have harassed or victimised others.

Sharma complained that the referendum’s booklet, submitted with the ballot papers, did not “contain statements for and against” the three new rules. However, certification officer David Cockburn said the union’s rules state Equity only has to provide arguments for and against the actual referendum question – which in this case was: “Do you approve of making changes to the Equity rules as set out on page 10 of this document?”.

Eager complained Equity had breached its rules by using its resources to campaign for one side of the argument – a “yes” vote – and by holding the referendum without discussing the three new rules, which he said is required under the union’s regulations.

Regarding his first complaint, Eager said it was “implied” in the union’s rules that resources should not be used to campaign for one side of an argument.

But Cockburn said: “The issue to which the complaint gives rise is a matter for the internal democratic processes of the union. It is not one which can be resolved by an application of the current rules of the union, expressed or implied.”

In the second part of his complaint, Eager highlighted an existing rule which states: “Any alteration by referendum shall not be effective unless the general subject matter of the alteration has been discussed within the period of two years prior to the holding of a referendum.”

He claimed that, although the union’s Annual Representative Conference in May 2010 had included discussion on an amendment to a rule about the personal and political beliefs of members, there had been no reference to the introduction of the three new rules which were part of the referendum.

Cockburn said, in his judgment, “the principle underlying” the new rules matched the amendment that was discussed in 2010, and therefore that the “general subject matter” had been discussed.

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