I witnessed something deeply sad last week. A female worker was in the workplace reception, clearly withdrawn, disturbed and unable to communicate. Colleagues had thought there was a serious mental health issue and had reported the concern to management four hours previously.
When I arrived there was quite a commotion. Different managers and HR officers were each trying to persuade the worker to leave the building and go home. One of them starting shouting things like "you are failing to follow a reasonable request....your refusal to leave the building is placing your job in jeopardy...we have phoned the police and they will be here soon".
The Unite Snr Steward was amazing. He calmed everything and everyone down, and eventually managed to persuade the lady to give her car keys to a friend and accept a lift home.
I called back a few days later to see how things were. By then, our member had been admitted to hospital with a serious mental health condition.
Today was the first time I'd been back to the workplace, and I am stunned by what I've heard.
This unfortunate woman lives on her own in a flat, and has no family in this country. She was admitted (sectioned) with nothing other than the clothes she was wearing. The branch bought the lady clothes and toiletries, which they gave to her during visiting hours on the first day of admission.
One of the senior Reps is visiting the lady every day and will continue for as long as required. The branch has put credit on her mobile phone so she can speak to her Mum. A plan of support for home visits will be put in place for when the discharge happens.
The lady remains very uncommunicative and unwell, but smiles when our Rep visits. The Rep has told her that the union are like family and will stand by her everyday until she is well, and that we will support her 100% at work to ensure she is properly eased back, treated fairly and with respect.
The employer has seen an entirely different side to us. The local branch has been sharply critical of the way management dealt with the issue. and has made it crystal clear that this was not misconduct, and that the Union expects nothing less than a caring, supportive employer to help the lady back into work when better health returns.
This sort of thing is what union officials like me call "casework". Today, that feels like a cold word. Casework is generally passed to me by the Reps when it's something they couldn't sort out themselves. Only because I visited by chance last week do I even know about this.
Like so much of how unions help people, the word "casework" is woefully inadequate. What I've heard today has been about love, compassion, and decency.
I was speechless as I heard about the amazing support these wonderful Unite Stewards are giving to this very poorly member. Still now, I really don't have the words.
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