Branch News

Upcoming events

Max car

Drop-in Dissolution Advice Session, Tuesday 17th March

On Tuesday 17th March branch members will be able to come and discuss any queries and concerns with Branch Chair Max Freedman, House dissolution authorities and Unite’s solicitors who will be on hand to steer you through dissolution arrangements.  The event will run from 1pm-3pm in Room D in 1 Parliament Street.

Stand up to Racism and Fascism Demo, Saturday 21st March

Join us and march with the Branch on Saturday 21st for the Stand up to Racism and Fascism Demo. Branch members will be meeting at 12pm BBC Portland Place, Central London, W1A 1AA. Get in touch if you’d like to join us.

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Working conditions in Parliament

Members will be aware that the recent heightened media interest in working conditions in Parliament, particularly in alleged instances of harassment, has led to a realisation by political parties and the House authorities that the unregulated status quo is not acceptable.

I am pleased to announce that as a result of this, your Parliamentary Staff Branch has been able to achieve some positive steps forward in negotiation with these bodies.

Thank you to the many of you who completed our recent survey on conditions in Parliament. With over 250 respondents, we were able to use this as the statistical basis to demand that the House authorities address the unacceptable levels of anxiety, stress and bullying here. I presented the results to the House of Commons Commission, and they told me that they were genuinely concerned by what they were told.

The result of this was the agreement to establish the confidential phone line service for MPs’ staff. Having worked with the team to develop this, I am pleased that it will offer legal, financial and other support, as well as being a line for reporting inappropriate behaviour.

This phone line will not resolve all of the issues that we have been raising, but I hope that it is a positive step, and it is a recognition that the Parliamentary authorities have a collective duty of care towards us.

Secondly, we have offered our help to any of the parties that want to ensure that their internal grievance procedures are fair and robust. So far only the Labour Party has chosen to work with us, but we hope that other parties will soon recognise the wisdom of this and acknowledge that voluntary codes simply are not good enough.

We have agreed a system with the Labour Party where standard or contractual grievances and disciplinaries can be considered by a conciliation committee of members of the branch and the PLP. For serious allegations of misconduct there would be an independent panel, whose chair would be appointed by the Chair of the PLP in agreement with us, who would consider these matters.

We are pleased that the PLP has recognised the importance of establishing a robust, independent system that should bring reassurance to both the public and our members as their staff. We hope that these procedures will not need to be followed and that a more professional culture will be established, but we are glad that they are now in place.

I would like to thank all members as ever for your support, and remember that we are only in a position to be involved in these discussions because of our membership – if it were not for our voices united together we would have no choice of being heard.

Max Freedman, Branch Chair

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How to end the bullying and harassment of MPs’ staff

By Lucille Harvey

It is farcical that the employment regulations that MPs put into law are not accessible to their own staff.

Revelations about the treatment of MPs’ staff are unsurprising to those of us who have worked for a Member of Parliament. Sexual harassment, on the scale that Channel 4 News uncovered, is symptomatic of a culture where abuse of power and impunity are rife. A culture that allows the harassment, bullying and exploitation of staff to go unchecked and unchallenged but moreover a culture that, at times, has been complicit in covering up it up.

How is this possible in any modern workplace, let alone the Mother of Parliaments?  The truth is that while in theory MPs’ staff are protected by employment rights, in practice these rights are hard for us to access.

The House of Commons is set up as 650 individual offices with MPs receiving their staffing budgets from IPSA and then free to organise their office as they wish. As such, employment contracts are between staff and the MP, who are commonly both employer and line manager. When the relationship between the MP and staff member is good, this arrangement is workable. However, if the relationship falls into difficulties problems arise.

While technically MPs’ staff are covered by the legal protections that all workers have under UK law, the reality is that, for us, these legal protections are not easily accessed. To take a grievance against your employer, it will be heard by your line manager who often is the MP. Therefore you have the perverse system where the subject of the grievance can be the same person who hears the grievance and decides if it is progressed or dismissed. As you can imagine, this system produces very low success rates for staff regardless of the merits of their case.

Take the case of Unite Parliamentary Staff Branch member Marion Kinley. Ms Kinley found herself being victimised by her then employer Jim Devine MP. She attempted to take out a grievance against him with the House Authorities only to be told that as the MP was her employer, she’d need to take out the grievance with him, despite the fact that he was the subject of said grievance. Rather unsurprisingly, Devine chose to dismiss the grievance against him and then suspended Ms Kinley. As in other industries, it’s clear that MPs’ self-regulation doesn’t work.

None of the proposals that have been announced in the last week will do much to tackle this fundamental issue. The Unite Parliamentary Branch welcomed the introduction of a Speaker’s Helpline. But without comprehensive overhauling of the current grievance procedures nothing will change. A staff member calling to make a complaint of harassment against their MP will serve little purpose if they’re just directed to raise this with their employer, the MP who’s harassing them.  Nor will the Conservatives’ voluntary Code of Conduct work. MPs who follow good employment practices will sign up, and those who don’t, won’t.

Most importantly, partisan solutions are not the answer. All staff deserve equal protections at work; why should a researcher in the next door office have fewer rights than me because they fall under a different party’s code of conduct? We cannot replace one unjust system with another.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The Unite Branch has come up with four ways to radically improve conditions and tackle the most unhealthy aspects of this culture.

First, we need the introduction of independent mediation for staff. The fundamental flaw of the current grievance system is the absence of natural justice. A simple solution would be to introduce an impartial third party so staff have access to a fair hearing.

Second, a bullying & harassment policy that covers all MPs’ staff and volunteers. The Branch believes that an across the board policy is the only feasible solution.

Third, we need mandatory training for all MPs in good employment practice. Some problems arise due to a lack of knowledge rather than malintent on the MP’s part. Many MPs have not previously had the experience of being employers and are unaware of their responsibilities. This can be easily remedied through training.

Finally, we need collective recognition for the Parliamentary Staff Branch. Currently, MPs can choose whether they recognise the union or not. Voluntary arrangements like this just don’t work. The most vulnerable staff, those in most in need of trade union representation, are the ones least likely to work in offices where the Branch has a recognition agreement, as unscrupulous employers tend not to support trade unions.

The best solutions prevent problems from arising in the first place. These suggestions would significantly improve conditions for staff and employment relations generally but they could also potentially save the taxpayer money. Between 2006 and 2011, tribunal pay-outs to MPs’ staff cost the taxpayer £350,000. I’m sure we can all think of ways that money could have been better spent; I’ve listed a few above for starters.

The farcical situation by which the employment regulations that MPs put into law are not accessible to their own staff needs to end. We deserve better – it’s time the House got its house in order.

This article originally appeared in the New Statesman on 17 April

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Branch responds to new Conservative Code of Conduct

Following the publication of proposals for a new code of conduct for Conservative MPs, the branch has written to Sir George Young, the Conservative Chief Whip, to outline its concerns.

Sir George Young letter

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Branch Response to Announcement of Speaker’s Helpline

We welcome any initiatives to improve conditions for staff, but we want to ensure that the helpline really does give substantive help. Having produced the evidence that convinced the Commons Commission that the line should be created, the Branch is certain that those answering the calls must be fully trained in employment law. We are now working with the Commons authorities to ensure that it is a comprehensive and helpful service.

The helpline will not override the need for other reforms to procedures however. For example unless substantial improvements to existing grievance procedures are put in place, a staff member calling to make a complaint of harassment will have served little purpose as current grievance procedures are woefully inadequate to handle these complaints.

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Unite survey update

Thank you to everyone who has completed our survey on conditions for those working for MPs. We were able to use the data and information that you provided to make the case to the House of Commons Commission yesterday that it is essential that more support be provided to staff in Parliament and constituency offices.

Following that meeting, the Commission has announced a phone line to offer support and advice for staff, as set out below. As we have been campaigning for proper, modern conditions and HR support for years, I am pleased that this is a step in the right direction that I hope will help assist staff in their difficult jobs.

We will be involved in discussing the specifications of this new service to ensure that it is got right and, in the meantime, if you have not yet completed the survey, please do – as we have told the Commission that we will submit an expanded set of results in a week’s time, and obviously the larger it is, the more credible it becomes.  You can complete the survey here

Confidential support service to be introduced

At their meeting on 8 April 2014 the House of Commons Commission agreed that additional support should be given to staff of MPs through a confidential telephone service.

Members’ staff in Westminster and their constituencies currently have little access to wellbeing services, including advice or support on employment issues. The Speaker and the Commission expressed support for the introduction of a telephone service to help Members’ staff identify where to go for guidance on areas such as employment conditions, bullying and harassment, personal problems or any other issues that might affect their work, health or general wellbeing.  It is hoped that this new confidential phone line service will be operational later this month.

Members’ staff will be kept up to date on progress via information on the intranet and from staff organisations including ParliAgender, MAPSA and UNITE.

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Staff Survey on Workloads, Working & Employment Conditions

The Branch has put together a survey so we can get a better idea of current working conditions for staff in parliament. The survey is completely anonymous and will only take minutes to complete. We’d be grateful if you could fill it in and encourage your colleagues to do so too. Feel free to pass onto to any members of parliamentary staff who may be interested.

You’ll find the survey at the link below:

If you have any questions about the survey, or more generally, just get in touch with Lucille Harvey, Branch Secretary, at

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Branch AGM: 6:30pm Wednesday 12th March, Committee Room 17

Following an address from Steve Hart (Chair of UAF) on the upcoming Stand up to Racism Demo and Rally marking UN Anti-Racism Day, we holding elections for the following positions: 

Executive Positions:

Assistant Secretary            
Vice Chair                      
Political Officer            
Campaigns Officer             
Union Learning Rep            
Equality Rep                               
Social Secretary                                    
Intern Officer  
Membership Secretary  
Newsletter Editor
Health & Safety Officer
Auditor x 2
Website Officer
Environment Rep
LGBT Officer
Constituency Coordinator
Regional Reps: Scotland, Wales, North West, North East, Yorkshire, East Midlands, West Midlands, Eastern, South East, South West

Self-nominations should be sent to the Branch Secretary for the positions as listed above. Deadline for nominations: 12pm, 11th March

Members wishing the Branch to affiliate to a specific CLP and nominate delegate(s) should send the name of the CLP, the name of the delegate(s), home address, LP membership number and Unite membership number (if known) to the Branch Secretary.  The same information, excluding LP membership number, is required for the Branch’s affiliation to local TUCs. 

 The AGM will be followed by an ordinary branch meeting and social.

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Work Your Proper Hours Day – Friday 1st March


Work Your Proper Hours Day (1 March 2013) is the day when the average person who does unpaid overtime finishes the unpaid days they do every year, and starts earning for themselves. We think that’s a day worth celebrating.

Over five million people at work in the UK regularly do unpaid overtime, giving their employers £29.2 billion of free work in 2011 alone. If you’re one, why not take some time to reflect on how well (or badly) you’re balancing your life? This is one day in the year to make the most of your own time. Take a proper lunchbreak and leave work on time to enjoy your Friday evening – You deserve it!

Long hours are not good for us; they cause stress; they’re bad for our health; they wreck relationships; they make caring for children or dependents more difficult; and tired, burnt-out staff are bad for business.

People do long hours for a variety of very different reasons, and work life balance expert Professor Cary Cooper has helped us put together a long hours clinic tool, to give you tailored advice to fit your own situation.

You can also use our online balance check to diagnose what your workplace’s working style is, and then add yourself to our big interactive map to see how you stack up against everyone else. Or just check the map, to see what others have said.

Work Your Proper Hours Day for 2013 will be 1 March, but your own pay day may come earlier or later, depending on the hours you work above your contracted hours. Use our online unpaid overtime calculator to find out when you can celebrate paying off your long hours debt.

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Unite Young Members’ Training Weekend 1-3 Feb

As part of the union’s continuing work on developing young members we are putting on a training event for members who are 30 and under in the London & Eastern region who expressed an interest in making a change in their workplace or getting more involved in union campaigns.
This course will build on the knowledge and skills of young members to get active within their workplaces and communities, get involved in the young members campaigns and the broader campaigning work of the union. You don’t need to be a workplace rep to attend this course, you just need to be able to commit to attending for the duration of the course and want to get active within your workplace and the union.
This course runs from the evening of Friday 1st February until lunchtime on Sunday 3rd February in our Training centre in Eastbourne.
If you are interested in attending please contact our Women & Equalities Organiser Mel Whitter by 24th January on

Unite A5 LE Youth Leaflet

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