RSA ordered to pay £7,000 to employee dismissed after criticising union stance

08 Nov 2023 News

Adobe, by Vitalii Vodolazskyi

The Royal Society of Arts (RSA) has been ordered to compensate an employee it unfairly dismissed after she publicly criticised its stance on workers’ unions.

An employment tribunal has ruled that RSA dismissed its former head of policy and participation, Ruth Hannan, for an “unfair reason” related to her union activity. 

The tribunal ruled that the charity must pay the former employee £6,959 as a result.

According to a reserved judgment document, Hannan said she was due to end her employment at the RSA on 13 October 2022 as part of her three-month notice period. 

She was quoted in the Observer on 9 October last year, criticising the RSA’s stance on unionisation, calling it “hypocritical” and saying it was “telling the world one thing, and doing another”. 

The day after, the RSA sent Hannan a letter headed “immediate termination of employment”, expressing concerns about her public comments and informing her that she would no longer have access to work systems.

However, the RSA argued that this letter did not mean that it had dismissed Hannan.

Hannan: ‘I hope the RSA reflects on how much damage they have caused’

Hannan said: “The last year has been incredibly tough, but just as with speaking out, I knew pursuing an employment tribunal was the right thing to do.

“I feel a deep sense of relief at the ruling. Knowing that my reputation and my professionalism had been tarnished was incredibly painful.”

She said that she was proud to work for the organisation, but that has been “sadly tarnished”. 

“I hope now that the RSA reflects on how much damage they have caused to their own reputation - all of which could have been avoided if they had worked with staff to achieve voluntary recognition. They have blamed everyone else for the problem but continue to refuse to reflect on their own behaviour.”

IWGB: ‘Strengthened our members’ resolve’

IWGB said: “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.”

In their own statement, union members at the RSA said: "Ruth’s victory has strengthened our resolve to continue pushing not only for fair pay, but to also restore the RSA as a good and safe place to work, something it has not been for staff over the last year under Andy Haldane’s leadership."

RSA: ‘Extremely disappointed’

In a statement, the charity said the employment tribunal which has come at a “considerable cost to our charity, including in legal fees”. 

“It has been part of an ongoing campaign by the IWGB union to spread defamatory, malicious and misleading information about the RSA and its senior management team and to create publicity for itself. This has been despite our ongoing formal requests to desist.

“IWGB's actions have been to the detriment of our charity and the wellbeing of our staff and our rights to take legal action in respect of statements issued and claims made have been reserved.

“We respect, but are extremely disappointed, by the tribunal’s judgment given the facts of this case. We reserve our right to appeal it.”

Ongoing strike action

The judgment comes amid ongoing industrial action at the charity.

RSA denied voluntary union recognition for its staff members at the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) last year, despite previously recognising the union for its work to increase pay for gig workers.

IWGB achieved formal recognition at RSA via a statutory vote in March 2023.

This September, RSA staff members represented by the union went on strike for the first time in the charity’s 270-year history due to an ongoing dispute over pay. 

IWGB members at the charity took further industrial action the following month after failing to negotiate pay terms. 

Yesterday, four more days of industrial action were announced by the IWGB.

Some 85 members of RSA staff are represented by the union, when the average headcount for the financial year ending March 2023 was 114. 

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