Arts charity wrongfully sacked head of policy over comments on workers’ rights, tribunal rules

Charity

The RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) must pay almost £7,000 to a wrongfully dismissed employee, an employment tribunal has ruled.

Ruth Hannan was dismissed by the RSA from the role of head of policy and participation on 10 October 2022, after she was quoted in The Observer newspaper as saying the charity was “telling the world one thing, and doing another” on workers’ rights.

The day after Hannan’s quotes appeared in The Observer she was dismissed from her position with only four days left on her contract.

Staff at the RSA felt frustrated that their pay had been frozen while executive pay continued to rise, Hannan had said.

The ruling says her decision to speak to the press came after the RSA refused on three occasions to formally acknowledge the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, the union Hannan and more than half of the RSA’s employees are part of.

London Central Employment Tribunal ruled this week that the dismissal was unlawful because an employee cannot be sacked for “taking part in the activities of an independent trade union at an appropriate time”.

The RSA argued that the comments made by Hannan were “disparaging” and “wholly unreasonable” and therefore did not fall under the scope of statutory protections, but this was dismissed by Employment Judge Codd.

The judge ruled the charity should pay £6,959 to Hannan by way of basic award.

After the judgment, Hannan said: “Doing the right thing is hard. A year ago, RSA staff were having to battle to unionise, and I believed that the right thing to do was to speak out. As a result of speaking out, I was dismissed.

“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.

“I was so proud of working at the RSA, and this has sadly been tarnished.

“However, the honour I feel to have worked with those colleagues has not.

“Knowing that I may still help their fight for a fair workplace at the RSA allows some of that proud feeling to return.”

The RSA released a statement expressing its disappointment in the ruling and saying that the IWGB had “actively encouraged” Hannan to pursue the claim.

The statement said: “We are obviously very disappointed at the tribunal’s finding in this regard.

“We are also convinced that the outcome is unjust, and that we have at all times acted in good faith and in the best interests of the RSA and its staff.

“Because of this claim, the RSA has been forced to devote valuable management resources and spend vital charitable funds on legal costs instead of making investments in our social impact work and our staff, at a time of considerable financial pressures on our charity.”

The IWGB received recognition at the charity in March and by September its 85 RSA members were on strike over an ongoing pay dispute.

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