Former union leader denies pressuring Brendan Ogle to change job after cancer treatment – ​​The Irish Times

Unionist’s former boss Brendan Ogle told the Industrial Relations Commission that appointing him as a “senior manager” in the Republic of Ireland in 2018 “created discord within the governing body” of the union.

The witness added that the former Unite general secretary – a close ally of ousted British Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn – said it would be best if Ogle “watched himself and kept his head down” when the union’s leadership changed.

Jackie Pollock, the Irish regional secretary, now retired, told the Industrial Relations Commission that former union leader Len McCluskey’s decision to put Ogle in a senior position in charge of the political campaign in the Republic led to to a collective complaint by the union. officials who argued that he was “dividing Ireland”.

“It created discord within the officer corps and some people in the Irish executive,” Pollock said of the position, which he had described in a directive at the time as “the senior officer” in the Republic, the court heard.

He has denied “pressuring” Ogle to change jobs when he returned to work after cancer treatment.

Pollock said that following Sharon Graham’s election as union general secretary in 2021, his predecessor McCluskey called him “out of the blue” and referred to “advising him (Mr Ogle) that he should look for an alternative role” at Dundalk as regional officer.

Mr Ogle was ill at work at the time, having been sent for treatment for a “very aggressive cancer”, the court was told.

The union member accused his employer of disability discrimination in a complaint filed under the Employment Equality Act, alleging failure to provide him with reasonable accommodations, victimization and harassment upon his return to work.

The court heard that Mr Ogle asked Mr McCluskey to inquire about an appointment for a regional leadership position at the Dundalk-based union while he was ill, at a time in his recovery when he was not sure he could resume their previous functions. or even survive the disease.

His position is that he rejected the move in December 2021 because he was not satisfied that his salary and seniority would be maintained.

Pollock said that when McCluskey first approached him about the job: “I took it from Len: ‘There’s a new general secretary and he (Mr Ogle) should look out for himself and keep his head down.'”

Pollock said he thought that when Ogle returned to work he would take up the regional officer position in Dundalk rather than his position in Dublin as a senior officer and “keep his options open”.

“At the time, the only argument was money and safeguarding wages,” Pollock said.

The witness said Mr. Ogle did not make any specific complaints about his role being “taken away” after his return to work. He said he was aware, informally, that there were “issues” between Ogle and another senior union leader in the Dublin office, Tom Fitzgerald, about “defining who did what”.

He said he couldn’t “put a specific date” on when he realized it, but that his approach was to tell the men: “You two work it out.”

“Mr. Ogle had told me that he was a great friend of Mr. Fitzgerald… and that they could work it out,” Pollock said.

Ogle stated earlier this year that Fitzgerald told him on August 22, 2022, that the union’s new general secretary, Ms Graham, wanted a new strategy drawn up for Ireland and that she had issued a “directive” that Ogle not to be included in it.

Unite’s lawyers have said Fitzgerald will deny Ogle’s account of the meeting when he testifies before the WRC on Tuesday.

Under cross-examination, Pollock accepted that he was the author of an email dated 9 December 2021 which referred to the dispute over the terms and conditions of Dundalk Post and of a text message from Mr Ogle on the evening former.

Ogle’s lawyer, Mary-Paula Guinness, asked Pollock why he had repeatedly asked her about the Dundalk job at a return to work meeting on July 22, 2022, given that she had known about her client’s position “since December.” .

“This was the first opportunity: the return to work interview is to clarify everything,” he said.

Guinness told him that after Ogle confirmed that he was “not contemplating the role at all,” Pollock had asked him twice more during that meeting. The lawyer asked why this was so.

“I have no idea,” Pollock said.

“Were you pressured to move to Dundalk?” Mrs Guinness asked.

“Of course not, this was a request from Brendan and (Mr McCluskey). “It wasn’t my request,” he said.

When Guinness told him there was “a lot of pressure on Mr Ogle”, Pollock responded: “There’s no pressure in that interview.”

Previously, Mr. Ogle’s wife, Mandy La Combre, told the court that she made a Facebook post criticizing the union on September 11, 2022 in an attempt to prevent any “trolling” by municipal water workers who, According to her, they were upset that Mr. Ogle was “silent” about an industrial agreement they opposed.

She told the commission: “When he came back, I thought everything was going to be okay, and it wasn’t,” she said.

Her husband had told her “they wouldn’t put him in this” and “take him out of that,” La Combre said, adding, “you’d expect better” from a union job.

He said many public comments were made on social media the weekend he made the post following an agreement reached on a transfer of companies, with some criticism that workers had not been voted on the measures.

“People were actually saying, ‘Where’s Ogle?’, ‘Ogle’s gone quiet,’ ‘Where’s Ogle now?’” La Combre said.

She said she feared a repeat of the “trolling” she said had occurred around the time of the Apollo House occupation by housing activists some years earlier and decided she wanted to “put the matter to rest”.

In the post, which was submitted to the court as evidence, Ms La Combre wrote: “What I have sadly learned is that (Unite) don’t seem to be as happy as I am that he has recovered.”

La Combre then referred to an alleged attempt to move her husband into a reduced role at Dundalk and a claim that he had been “excluded from staff and activist meetings and key communications on important issues”.

The WRC heard that during a speech at a union conference in Malahide, Co Dublin, later that month, former union president Tony Woodhouse referred to “the lies being told” about Unite on social media and declared : “Agents returning from sick leave always receive the best treatment.”

The court heard that Ogle subsequently launched legal proceedings against Woodhouse over the speech, telling the WRC earlier this year that the former president “attacked – and on advice, I can say defamed – me at the biennial conference”.

The union’s position, put to Mr Ogle during cross-examination, was that the “differences” between the parties arose from the coverage of his wife’s Facebook post in the ‘Irish Examiner’.

Mark Harty, representing Unite, told La Combre that his Facebook post had amounted to a “hand grenade” and asked him if he thought it had been “ill-advised” in the context of a “drafting” process. issues related to her husband’s return to work.

“I don’t think there was any process to try to resolve (things),” he responded.

Asked how Irish Examiner journalist Mick Clifford had his contact details, he said: “I am a senior official in another union. All my contact details are public.”

It was also confirmed that Ogle’s lawyers failed in their bid to have Unite general secretary Sharon Graham called as a witness in the case; Judge Elizabeth Spelman ruled that Ms. Graham had no information relevant to her investigation.

The case has been adjourned for the day.

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