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Independent inquiry into TSSA union uncovers series of ‘appalling incidents'

An independent inquiry has uncovered a series of ‘appalling incidents' at the TSSA union (Danny Halpin/PA)
Alan Jones, PA Industrial Correspondent

An independent inquiry into allegations of sexual harassment and bullying in a trade union has uncovered a series of “appalling incidents”, it has been revealed.

Baroness Helena Kennedy said in her report into the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) that she had found sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying.

She said: “The leadership and culture has enabled these behaviours through wilful blindness, power hoarding and poor practices.”

Her report said there were “wonderful examples” of the trade union movement at its best – pushing for diversity, inclusion and belonging, facilitating member education and development – as well as driving better wages and conditions.

She said: “It gave me no pleasure, therefore, to uncover a series of appalling incidents, alongside leadership and management failings in the TSSA.

“These incidents included inappropriate and sexual touching, sexual assault, coercive and manipulative behaviour, violent and disrespectful language, humiliation and denigration of members of staff, reps and members of the Executive Committee (EC).

“Some of this behaviour was actually witnessed – or heard – directly by me.

“I was disappointed by behaviour I witnessed in the EC and by some of the language used by senior staff when I spoke with them.

“I also heard evidence of failings in due process, natural justice and governance. Sometimes these failings have been all the more shocking for the obvious lack of common sense or oversight that seems to have infiltrated the organisation's senior decision-making.

“My impression is of a concentration of absolute power in a very small number of hands, with little or no scrutiny.

“Beyond specific instances, I have found a culture that is stuck, it seems, in a morass of staff upset and grievance – on matters relating not just to sexual harassment and assault – but also to the bullying, silencing and marginalising of staff.”

The investigation was launched last year following allegations against the then general secretary, Manuel Cortes, who retired last October. He denies the allegations.

The TSSA said: “The report makes difficult reading and highlights serious issues that the union needs to face up to and tackle.

“We know that coming forward may have been incredibly difficult. The contributions will help TSSA to address failings, and become better, safer, and more inclusive.

“As a union, TSSA fights for equality, fairness, and social justice for all, regularly winning on equality issues for our members. But it is clear from this report that our union has not followed the values we aspire to for our members.

“The report says that sweeping change is required within TSSA. We recognise that change is needed and that action must be taken to urgently address failings. TSSA is committed to implementing widespread change.

“With immediate effect, the president and treasurer have stood down and an interim president and interim treasurer have been appointed.”

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said: “The report reveals a shameful and unacceptable culture of bullying and sexual harassment at the TSSA.

“Sexual harassment and bullying have no place in the trade union movement or any workplace. The TUC believes the women who came forward to share their experiences.

“I'm pleased the TSSA has committed to act on Helena Kennedy's recommendations and have asked the TSSA to meet with me and the TUC president to discuss next steps.

“This report must lead to genuine culture change. The union movement must be a place where women feel safe and supported.

“Tackling and preventing sexual harassment in our movement and in every workplace is a priority for the TUC and our member trade unions.

“The TUC will continue and step up our dedicated programme of training union officers and senior leaders to prevent sexual harassment.”