Abandoning teachers at court : Investigation into union funded court cases ridicule Scotland’s main teaching union’s claims it stands by its members. AN INVESTIGATION into damages claims made by a union on behalf of teachers in the Court of Session against their employers has raised serious questions about public statements made by Ronnie Smith, the General Secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) who claimed the EIS “will pursue employers relentlessly on behalf of members for compensation”. However, it now transpires that even while the EIS union leader made the claims on national television, Mr Smith’s words are very far from a shocking reality, now revealed in documents handed over to law journalists & the media which show the EIS union have SECRETLY WALKED AWAY from a string of member’s damages claims at the last minute, leaving them to face court appearances without legal representation. The documents also show the union sought to cover up any information which revealed the union had abandoned its own members on the steps of the court.
Speaking on Scottish Television during a news report into figures revealing a massive SIX HUNDRED & FIFTY THOUSAND POUND settlement awarded to teachers in the past year, the bulk of which was awarded to a single teacher for an occupational stress case, Ronnie Smith, the soon-to-retire General Secretary of the EIS, Scotland’s main teacher’s union claimed : “..Most employers are demanding more from their employees with less resource to deliver on the service that’s provided so prospects are not very good but we are very clear that if employers don't pay attention to the mental health as well as the physical health of their employees, we will pursue them relentlessly on behalf of members for compensation”
However, documents relating to a series of EIS backed court actions now disclosed to the media which include terse exchanges between some of Scotland’s top law firms reveal a catalogue of cases where the EIS union have ABANDONED members damages claims, even after supporting some of the cases for years and employing multiple law firms & expert witnesses to prepare for court appearances cancelled at the last minute.
In some of the cases, the abrupt, unexplained termination of the union’s funding & support for its members court litigation, despite promises of ‘relentlessly pursuing employers on behalf of members’ have left some ill teachers facing FINANCIAL RUIN after being left with massive bills for legal fees reaching into HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF POUNDS, fees which were accumulated by EIS instructed law firms who in some instances, appear to made a complete mess of members damages claims, taking years in some of the cases to file any court papers.
Papers from some of the damages claims also appears to implicate current senior figures in the EIS who appear to have become personally involved, leading to situations where the progress of member’s damages claims have been obstructed, ultimately leading to secret decisions taken to axe the union’s support for a string of member’s court actions. There are also hints of evidence within the now disclosed paperwork that some of the law firms involved in representing EIS members and paid for by the union, have concealed and deliberately withheld paperwork relating to court litigation so it could not be handed over to the affected EIS member to carry on themselves.
Speaking to Scottish Law Reporter, a legal insider who looked at the papers disclosed to journalists said : “There appears to be no doubt the EIS deliberately removed correspondence and reports from members case files who were involved in court litigation against their employers. The removal of the material will have had a profound effect on the members and their damages claims, leaving them without proof of EIS instructions & evidence necessary for them to continue their claims alone.”
He continued : “Without doubt, the EIS actions in these cases have led to the members involved being denied access to justice”
Claims made by EIS Union General Secretary that his union relentlessly pursue employers on behalf of members claims are now in question (click to watch video)
The investigation into the EIS’ union’s claims over how it pursues litigation conducted on behalf of members comes after its General Secretary issued a detailed Press Release reporting the union’s efforts to ensure its members received compensation payouts for accidents or injuries at work.
The Press Release, which can be viewed on the EIS’ own website here Record award highlights the need to tackle teacher stress, or alternatively, online HERE, stated :
An EIS member has received a record six figure settlement as a result of an occupational stress case. The settlement, which was agreed out of court, was a consequence of an employer’s failure to act upon repeated reports of excessive workload which led to the member suffering from stress related psychiatric injury. This award is the largest single ever paid to an EIS member as a result of occupational stress. The figure was revealed as part of almost £650,000 in compensation – another record figure - for work-related injuries secured by the EIS for its members over the past year.
Commenting, EIS General Secretary Ronnie Smith said : "Occupational stress is a major problem facing teachers and lecturers. The growth in the number of cases involving psychiatric injury and stress-related illness must be a warning to employers that they need to take account of their employees’ mental, as well as physical, wellbeing. The fact that this record compensation award arose from a work-load related case, which was compounded by a lack of management support, is no coincidence. This clearly illustrates just how serious such injuries can be, and the heavy price that employers will have to pay if they fail in their obligations to protect their staff.”
Mr Smith added : "Employers should be using the Health and Safety Executive’s stress management standards and trying to reduce and control the levels of stress caused by work activities. Stress-related illnesses are extremely serious and can take a huge toll on the individual concerned. The long-term effects can be significant, and recovery can take a long period of time. While the EIS supports members in stress-related claims, our preference would always be for such cases to be avoided completely. Employers must tackle the causes of stress, for example by controlling work-load, and they must also provide appropriate support for teaching staff who are experiencing stress.”
However, an insider said the EIS’ press release and the union’s effort in the media to push the story out regarding the £650,000 payout and the six figure out of court settlement was little more than a play to hold onto its dwindling membership numbers, which are now being hit by redundancies in the public sector cuts. The claims of spin appear to back up rumours the EIS are worried over teacher sackings across Scotland which could reduce its membership & political influence.
A solicitor commenting on the ‘out of court’ settlement case criticised the EIS over the lack of accurate detail published about the settlement in spite of the General Secretary’s apparent willingness to mention it on television news. He went onto question why such a large out of court settlement was taken if the EIS believed it had a strong case and could go for more.
He said : "With regard to the case the EIS are happy to mention in passing but unwilling to mention in detail, the little we are offered in Mr Smith’s statement leaves me wondering if the client was told, take the settlement or we will walk away from your case.”
The EIS Press Office were asked for comment on why the teaching union had abandoned members damages claims it had apparently been supporting & funding for years. No response was given.
A number of questions were put to the EIS via Freedom of Information laws by a journalist, asking :
How many cases have the EIS taken on and funded for members in terms of legal actions against their employers for damages claims, medical injury claims and other types of claims in the past three years.
How many legal actions, damages claims or court cases on behalf of EIS members & funded by the EIS have the EIS dropped from proceeding to court before the case was heard in court in the past three years
How many legal actions, damages claims or court cases on behalf of EIS members & funded by the EIS have been dropped by the EIS while litigation was in progress in the past three years.
What is the total amount spent by the EIS on representing members legal actions, damages claims or court cases against their employers in the last three years.
In response to the questions, the EIS replied to the journalists via its media office, saying the union is not covered by Freedom of Information legislation and would not be answering any of the questions put to it.
The EIS union’s reaction to the revelations of how a little-discussed-in-public policy of abandoning member’s damages claims during the litigation process has raised suspicions among some members & legal observers that the teachers union is not all it has portrayed itself to be in the media.
Scottish Law Reporter's investigations into the papers disclosed to journalists are continuing.