REINSTATE DENNIS CARABOTT NOW
Defend our new independent strike leaders
Bring our movement of workers and the community into the streets and into the courtroom
RE-ENERGISE THE STRIKE MOVEMENT
LONDON WORKERS MUST LEAD THE WAY
Defend the NHS and all public services
Stop the attacks against all oppressed communities
Unite to build coordinated, indefinite multi-union strike action to shut down London
Defeat the Tory government
ALL OUT 25 SEPTEMBER*
Protest at Newham Council Cabinet meeting
Tuesday 5th September, 9.30am East Ham Town Hall, London E6 2RP
Protest at the full Newham Council meeting
Monday 18th September, 6pm Old Town Hall, Stratford, London E15 4BQ
Attend Dennis’s Employment Tribunal Hearing
*Monday 25th – Friday 29th September, 9.30am onwards East London Employment Tribunals, Import Building, 2 Clove Cres, London E14 2BE (nearest station East India DLR)
London workers and oppressed communities must fight together to defeat the Tory government and to win the pay rises and better public services we deserve
We are beginning the second year of our mass strike actions. The workers whose strikes ended because their sell-out leaders forced through inferior contracts are still angry. Many are prepared to keep fighting. However, most workers cannot see how they can win so long as their pro-management union bosses remain in charge of negotiations and strikes.
Strike to Win Committee and Movement for Justice (MFJ) have consistently urged workers to vote no on bad settlements and to replace the gallery of traitors who are at the top of our unions with elected rank and file, accountable, tested and trusted union leaders who can lead us to victory.
Refuse workers in London’s largest borough, Newham, answered MFJ’s call to action and organised a Strike to Win Committee almost a year ago. They had been involved in several struggles long before the national strike movement began. The Newham refuse workers won some of their local demands last year. More importantly, by voting yes on the just completed strike authorisation ballots, they put themselves in a position to lead other local council employees in several greater London boroughs and in Liverpool who also voted yes to authorise local strikes.
These local government strikes can begin in early September. They can join and coordinate actions with the NHS junior doctors and Consultants’s national strikes, the indefinite strikes of London traffic wardens and St. Mungo’s housing charity workers and the continuing struggles of university lecturers, some of whom are already out on indefinite strikes. There are also bus drivers, airport and transport workers, workers in privatised public sector jobs and in newly organized private sector jobs like Amazon that are still fighting for a good settlement. This means that with even a modest amount of union cooperation and coordination, London could still be shut down.
The Newham Strike to Win Committee is made up of experienced worker leaders and community supporters. It is in an excellent position to organise coordinated indefinite strike action involving all of the workers still fighting for inflation-beating wage settlements and local demands.
To lead a new phase of our strike movement, however, the Newham Strike to Win Committee must win its latest challenge: it must stop Newham Council from getting away with sacking one of Newham’s best known and most effective union and community leaders, Dennis Carabott. Mr. Carabott has worked for Newham Council for sixteen years. He has been a refuse truck driver, team leader and teacher and mentor for new drivers for most of those years. He has an unblemished record of service. He was sacked by Newham Council on blatantly false, manufactured charges of misconduct because he was so successful at fighting for his co-workers as a union and for the community he served.
Dennis Carabott’s full witness statement is included below. It is the story of a work force in constant struggle for their rights and of a classic management witch-hunt. Mr. Carabott played a decisive role in the Newham and Tower Hamlets refuse workers’ overwhelming yes votes on their recent strike ballots, despite his termination. Win or lose his employment case, he is ready and eager to lead our upcoming strikes.
Dennis Carabott’s Employment Tribunal case begins on 25th September at the East London Employment Tribunal. The case is slated to go for 5 days. The Newham Strike to Win Committee must win Mr. Carabott’s reinstatement.
Mr. Carabott has a solicitor, a strong legal case, and very low odds of winning in front of an Employment Tribunal. Only about 10% of workers whose cases are decided by Employment Tribunals, win. Employment law is full of loopholes that give employers a big advantage over workers. Managements’ abundance of resources also gives them a big edge.
What Dennis Carabott, Newham Strike to Win Committee and MFJ have on our side is the overwhelming support of workers and community members. Since we know that most union tops would rather eat glass than mobilize for Mr. Carabott to win, we must mobilize and lead our support and create a shift in the balance of power. Our aim must be to demoralize Newham Council and have them reeling back on their heels, before Mr. Carabott sets foot in court. We can win in court if we are putting the movement back into our strike movement by taking our fight to the streets, and to Newham’s Labour Party Council and Mayor and Cabinet meeting.
Our strike movement needs successful strike actions in Newham, Tower Hamlets, Lambeth, Liverpool and other experienced and battle-tested centres of union and community actions. To get successful strikes, we need to prove that we can defend Dennis Carabott and any other leader who gets victimised. We need our natural allies to join the fight, including the traders and shoppers at Queen’s Market who are also fighting to save and improve the market – against Newham Refuse and Waste Department managers. We need the support of all the oppressed communities that can’t wait to hand the Tories another defeat. We need every union member still in active struggles for new improved settlements, and those still angry and bitter for the sell-outs they suffered, to organise to win Mr. Carabott’s case.
There are pivotal moments in the history of struggles between the oppressed and their oppressors, that are won or lost based on the fate of a single leader. Right now the success of our strike movement depends on the determination of new leaders to step forward. A win for Dennis is inseparable from the forging and emerging of new leaders for our movement. We need to win Mr. Carabott’s case to send a message to every Tory MP and Labour Party Council that victimising our leaders will accomplish nothing more than strengthening of our movement.
Attend Dennis’Employment Tribunal Hearing, 25-29 September, 2023 at the East London Tribunal (see address and direction above) and join the demonstrations and actions in his defense. Be a leader in this movement. Sign the petition and make the united fight for justice and civil rights for all of us.
23 August 2023
Dennis Carabott Witness Statement
I. The Unjust Charges Against Me
1. My name is Dennis Carabott. I am 56 years old and of Maltese ethnic origin. I moved to Britain in 1981 and have lived in London since I arrived 42 years ago. I have dyslexia which the Council are aware of and have accepted.
2. In 2004, I started working as an agency driver for the Newham Council. In 2006 I was given a 1 year contract and I was made a permanent driver in 2007 by the Newham Council Department of Refuse, Recycling and Street Cleansing. Since then, I have worked in a number of different departments as a driver. At the time of my suspension on 29 July 2019, I was employed as a Waste Collections driver.
3. The Newham Council Department of Refuse, Recycling and Street Cleansing serves several different functions. Our jobs include removing refuse created by businesses and residents, picking up recyclable materials, cleaning the streets, gritting and other functions. Newham Council relies on the money it earns from its refuse services to pay for a variety of services it provides to the people in Newham. I will focus on the responsibilities of the Waste Collections Department, since that is where I was working when I was dismissed.
4. Generally speaking, there are two different categories of refuse removal services: those that are provided for traders/businesses (Trade) and those that are provided for domestic customers. In Trade there are different sizes of waste bins that businesses can rent from the Council for different prices. Home dwellers get allocated bins paid via the Council Tax. The larger the bin size the greater the monthly fee. All residents are also entitled to get recycling bins from the Council.
5. There are specific rules that apply to both traders/businesses and domestic customers. All customers are required to place all their refuse in the bins that they have or are paying for. No one is allowed to place excess refuse near or beside their bins for pick up. It is not unusual for traders to generate more waste materials than they are paying the Council to pick up. This is called over-generating (OG). If a customer is “over-generating” waste products, or placing rubbish in recycling bins, or violating other Council waste management policies, such as leaving abandoned furniture in the street, the refuse team who sees the violation reports it to their supervisor.
6. Over-generating of waste, fly-tipping and other unsanctioned activities cause the Council a loss of revenue. There are special inspectors employed by the Waste Management Department assigned to investigate, enforce, and fine repeated violators of the Council’s policies.
7. On 29 July 2019, I was suspended for the following allegation: Making unauthorised collections of waste for personal gain from Stratford Food Centre, 100–102 Leytonstone Road, and from Caner Supermarket, 163 Odessa Road. I was working as part of a three person afternoon shift team. I was the driver and team leader of my truck; Anthony M. and Stuart C. were my two loaders–the people who picked up refuse bins and bags and placed them into the back of the truck. Our team was designated as E2. There was a second afternoon shift team, also consisting of a driver and two loaders assigned and doing the same job assignment designated as E1.
8. E1 and E2 each had specific pre-assigned routes. These routes would change based on the different days that different traders were assigned to have their refuse removed. Our route assignments consisted of doing pre-scheduled timed pick-ups and non-scheduled pick-ups. Major roads like Leytonstone Road had two daily pick-up times to make sure that those roads were always kept clean and unimpeded by trash.
9. My direct supervisor at the time of my suspension was Colin*. Colin* was assigned to oversee the work of both E1 and E2. I reported directly to Colin* on a daily basis. A second afternoon shift supervisor Andrew Leedham was the supervisor of afternoon shift teams assigned to collect recycling. Colin* was the senior supervisor, Mr. Leedham had just started to work as a supervisor.
10. When I was unfairly suspended and then unfairly terminated, management did not provide a single piece of evidence to support their allegation that I was making unauthorised collections of waste for personal gain from Stratford Food Centre 100–102 Leytonstone Road, and from Caner Supermarket, 163 Odessa Road. My two loaders, Antony M. and Stuart C. were charged with the same allegation. I took responsibility for any violations that my crew was alleged to have made.
11. I will discuss the reasons for my unfair and wrongful suspension and termination below. I will also provide evidence of the unfair and unreasonable process the Council employed to carry out my suspension in a separate section. Having provided a basic outline of the waste management procedures in Newham and my specific role in the waste management area, I would like to first state the absence of any evidence of wrongdoing by me.
12. According to management the process that led to my suspension began in April 2019. In December 2018, I had raised a number of problems with my local management, including the allocation of work in our four trade teams: TR1 and TR2, the two day shift teams, and E1 and E2, the two afternoon shift teams. During this time frame, I repeatedly raised a host of other concerns with both my managers and with the Newham Mayor, Chief Executive Officer, and other borough officials. To avoid added confusion I will discuss those events in the next section.
13. On 8 January 2019 the issue of workload allocation was formally discussed at a Refuse and Recycling management/trade union meeting chaired by Mr. Stephen Blackburn. Mr. Blackburn was the manager of the Department of Waste and Recycling at that time and Colin* and Andy Leedham’s manager. At this meeting, Mr. Blackburn stated that the issues of work allocation had been resolved. But this issue continued to be a source of concern for me and the workers I spoke for.
14. On or about 1 April 2019, Mr. Blackburn asked Andy Leedham, who was not my supervisor, to do an investigation of the allocation of work between E1 and E2. I had no dealings with Mr. Leedham after he became a supervisor at the end of 2018. But in October and November of 2018, Mr. Leedham and I had a disagreement that was known to waste management.
15. In October 2018, Mr. Leedham was a loader and a member of Unite. He issued a complaint to management about the behaviour of our union steward Michael Hunter at a union meeting that had occurred away from our worksite. Mr. Leedham claimed that Mr. Hunter had yelled at him at the union meeting and that this occurrence made him feel bullied. Mr. Hunter was suspended by management. It was no secret to anyone that I had been present at the union meeting where the alleged “bullying” occurred and that I thought that charge was unfounded. I also questioned the right of waste management to discipline a union steward for speaking at a union meeting. I collected signed statements from virtually every other worker at the union meeting stating that Mr. Leedham had not been bullied by Mr. Hunter. These statements were later used as the central evidence in Mr. Hunter’s defence. Mr. Hunter’s suspension ended in 2020, after Mr. Leedham’s unprecedentedly fast promotion to becoming a supervisor.
16. To return to the investigation on unfair work assignments between the trades crews on afternoon shift: at the start of his investigation, Mr. Leedham discovered that the E1 team was assigned to collect 63 bins of rubbish at 48 premises every Tuesday, while my team, E2, was assigned to collect refuse from 85 bins at 64 premises. So my team was obviously doing about 33% more work than E1.
17. Mr. Leedham, who had no authority over trade waste collection, decided to “investigate” the E1 and E2 work assignments. Mr. Leedham never told my supervisor, Colin*, that he was “conducting an investigation” on the work assignments of his two work teams, even though he had ample opportunities to do so.
18. Mr. Blackburn never told my supervisor that he had asked Mr. Leedham to conduct the secret investigation. He never discussed the findings of the purported investigation with Colin*. Mr. Blackburn never even told Colin* that he was asking Human Resources for the okay to suspend me for gross misconduct in April 2019 when he had no evidence of misconduct on my part or on 29 July 2019 when I was actually suspended.
See the video of Dennis Carabott (pictured above) motivating fellow workers to attend the tribunal hearings. Scan the code for the video link.
19. Prior to my suspension on 29 July 2019, I had never received a single verbal or written warning. I was a respected and outspoken representative for my co-workers. I became the de facto Unite union steward at my workplace. Management knew they could count on me to go above and beyond carrying out all my job functions. I knew the customers on my route. They liked and treated me with respect and kindness, even though I frequently reported the traders responsible for over-generating rubbish to my supervisor. I never expected to be suspended for unsubstantiated presumptions which have attacked and smeared my character, honesty, and integrity.
20. I was charged with fraud. The allegations against me were first, that I made “unauthorised collections of rubbish,” and secondly, that the unauthorised rubbish picked up was over-generated rubbish of two shopkeepers who must have been paying me off for not reporting their over-generation of rubbish. The evidence of my wrongdoing relied on Andy Leedham’s review of CCTV footage and route records that he said looked like I was acting “suspiciously” at two stores that were on my collection route every Tuesday. The CCTV footage captured me walking out of the two stores, Caner Supermarket, on Odessa Road, and Stratford Food Centre, on Leytonstone Road, which is a large and busy main road in Newham, with drinks and snacks for me and my crew. I purchased these items while my two loaders were emptying a bin into the back of the truck. I was accused of allowing people outside of Caner Supermarket to throw extraneous boxes of rubbish into my truck. I never saw the rubbish being thrown into my truck, but it did not surprise me that this might have taken place, since the public throwing rubbish into our truck happened regularly. When I witnessed people throwing rubbish into the back of my truck, I would ask them to stop doing it. If the problem persisted with the same people I would write down the address of the premises, and when possible, report the people to my supervisor.
21. I did observe that there was extra rubbish placed beside the bin at Caner Supermarket. I asked the store owner if the rubbish was his, and he said no. He was not over-generating trash, so I had nothing to report him for. He explained to me that the rubbish came from the new tenant who had moved into the apartment above the store. He explained that the new tenant did not have a bin, and did not speak English.
22. I reported the issue to my supervisor Colin*. He became aware of the problem as soon as I became aware of it. I asked my supervisor if he could order a domestic rubbish bin for the tenant and he told me that the tenant would have to do so herself. The next time I was at the store, I explained to the shopkeeper what my boss told me to do. The store owner ordered domestic/recycling bins for the tenant but instead of receiving both a regular rubbish bin and a recycling bin, which is what should have occurred, the woman only received a recycling bin into which she neatly placed both rubbish and other trash. The drivers who picked up the recyclables would not empty the woman’s recycling bin because it would have contaminated the very profitable recycling materials, and so when we passed by the store after the recycling trucks had left the bin untouched, we picked up the stinking rubbish and refuse which we were not responsible for because it would have been a health and safety hazard.
23. There was another issue at Caner Market on Odessa Road. When we collected the bin, it was extra heavy and difficult for our loaders. That is because the owner would wet the cardboard so it could fit it into the bin. That practice not only made the bin heavier, it also meant that the loaders got splashed with the water from the wet cardboard. I reported this to my supervisor, Mickey Neale who told us to continue to collect the waste. We talked to the owner and asked him to please stop wetting the cardboard, and instead just leave it on the side of the bin and we will pick it up anyway. That business was not over-generating.
24. You might ask what I received for taking these common sense measures. Well, according to management, I received a 20p discount on a 70p bottle of water. The store owner has stated that he gave police officers and other public workers an occasional small discount on an item they purchased at the store. He also said that he never told the workers when he was giving them a discount. So a single 20p discount that I didn’t even realise I received, blew up into being “the personal gain” I received from a store owner who had done nothing to deprive the Council of a single penny.
25. Andy Leedham must have known that both domestic and trade customers often give refuse workers free drinks or snacks to show their appreciation of the services we provide. He had been a loader and supervised recycling/refuse collectors who routinely received gestures of goodwill from their customers.
26. The second accusation against me was that my team picked up some rubbish on Leytonstone Road in front of the Stratford Food Centre three and a half hours before the scheduled pick-up time. No one ever claimed that I received any money for the early pick-up. It was assumed that I must have. I explained that my crew often picked up trash along our route to lessen our load later when we made our scheduled pick-ups.
27. I also explained that we had three timed collections on different streets, including Leytonstone Road scheduled for 6.30pm and so we had to make adjustments to complete our work. When asked why I went into the store on Tuesdays at or around 3.30pm, behaviour that Andy Leedham characterised as “suspicious,” I explained that I bought my chocolate wafers as my weekly treat to myself, which came into the Food Centre on Tuesdays and were not available anywhere else.
28. I also reported to my supervisor a problem at Stratford Food Centre; the cardboard in the bin would get stuck and we had to manually take it out. I believe that Mickey Neale or VeeJay Pickett went to speak to the shop owner. They worked out an agreement for the shop owner to leave the cardboard on top or next to the bin for us to pick up. That way we saved time and trouble, and the rubbish would be collected.
29. The whole charge of fraud levelled against me for my Tuesday stop at Stratford Food Centre was especially absurd, because my crew was responsible for clearing all the rubbish on Leytonstone Road at or around 6.30pm, regardless of who generated it. Any rubbish left on the street, we would have to return to clear at 6.30pm. Nothing we cleared from the store at 3.30pm constituted over-generation of waste materials.
30. To my knowledge, no one from management ever went to the store to speak with the store owner to find out if I was accepting wafers as a bribe to overlook his imaginary over-generation of rubbish at any point in disciplinary proceedings. My crew collected rubbish on Leytonstone Road six days a week. We were very familiar with the practices of all the traders. We reported traders who over-generated rubbish. We could identify the guilty traders. We did our job and carried out the clear all refuse policy day in and day out. There was zero substance and no evidence for the fully fabricated and untrue charge that I accepted money from the owner of the Stratford Foods Centre in exchange for my not reporting.
31. Every upper level manager that participated in my dismissal claimed that there was no clear all policy used in the waste management department. They ignored my supervisor, Jonathan, who told upper level managers that he had instructed us to use the clear all protocol. They also overlooked Newham Council’s published public policy statement on “fly-tipping,” the act of illegally leaving refuse in black bags or other unauthorised containers or discarded furniture and other rubbish on public roads.
32. The policy states that fly-tipping is illegal and threatens to fine anyone caught fly-tipping £400. It also states that the Council aims “to clear all fly-tips on publicly owned roads and paths within 24 hours.” Larger, more heavily populated and travelled main roads including Leytonstone Road receive two daily refuse pick-ups six days a week to fulfil the Councils clean and safe streets policies. In the course of my discipline, 30 waste management workers signed a letter stating that they all carried out the clear all protocol.
33. I hope it is clear that the allegation of “making unauthorised collections for personal gain” from Stratford Food Centre, and from Caner Supermarket are not based on anything. My suspension and dismissal should have never taken place. The grounds for my dismissal are on their face unfair and unreasonable. Mr. Blackburn wanted to suspend me in April 2019 and then received the go ahead from Human Resources to suspend me in May 2019 on the basis of a single CCTV recording that does not show me doing anything wrong.
34. If Mr. Blackburn had talked to me, my supervisor Colin*, the store owners, my co-workers, and other Council staff and managers including those involved with street sweeping, rather than sneaking around behind all of our backs to construct reasons for my suspension, all of this could have been avoided. If Mr. Blackburn was genuinely unaware of the practice of so many customers giving us free or discounted drinks and food, all he needed to do was investigate how frequently this was occurring. If he genuinely believed that for refuse workers and many of our managers, receiving free or discounted drinks from our customers would inevitably lead to fraud, he could have held a group meeting and outlawed the practice. Mr. Blackburn and higher up management people who participated in my dismissal practice knew that some managers and lots of workers followed the clear all procedures.
35. So why charge me and find me responsible for gross misconduct and fraud? The answers to these questions are in the next two sections of my witness statement which cover the runaway rubber stamping review process that was neither fair nor reasonable, and the relationship between my public interest declarations and trade union activities.
II. Retaliation and Detriment
How My Actions in Representing Myself and My Co-Workers with the Mayor and Management Increased After 18 October 2018 and Resulted in My Discriminatory Dismissal.
36. My experience of facing retaliation for my public disclosures on the mismanagement of our department began in 2015 when I suffered the detriment of lost overtime hours and pay for speaking out. That was followed by another act of retaliation for again making public disclosures in 2017. In response to that, I persuaded the Mayor and Chief Executive to hold a workers-only meeting in the canteen at the job site. It looked like we were finally going to make progress on having our grievances addressed. However, combined with my raising concerns about the significant differences in the workload of the four trade refuse crews, all this resulted in further detriment. Events occurred in October 2018 which qualitatively changed my situation and led to my termination.
37. In January 2017, I was part of leading my union’s organising drive for a collective grievance of 50 refuse workers. I submitted it in August 2017. April/May 2017 I attended a meet and greet event at the Depot canteen with the newly elected Mayor, where I spoke to the Mayor raising the victimizations, bullying, and money wasting. She agreed to arrange a meeting with my co-workers and myself. After a number of weeks went by and we hadn’t heard back from the Mayor, I and two of my co-workers attended the Mayor’s surgery and spoke to her again. The result was the then Chief Executive Katherine Kerswell and the Mayor organised a meeting for my co-workers and myself at the Depot canteen, without management present. Katherine Kerswell said she would come back to us. However, we found out a few weeks later that she suddenly resigned.
38. To put what happened in context, in September 2018 I helped to circulate a group grievance that garnered the signatures of a lot of workers and raised several different issues, including the harassment and bullying of workers on the job by management and several other issues of unfairness. Because of our action, on 24 September 2018, a meeting was convened that included several members of management and a delegation of three workers and a higher up Unite union official. I was not present at the meeting.
39. On 18 October 2018, a settlement to the grievance was announced and a Unite union meeting was called to discuss the settlement. There was a lot of discussion and debate by workers at the meeting which led to a few arguments. There was nothing unusual about that union meeting including the fact that none of the arguments had a personal character.
40. On 19 October, the day after the meeting, Andy Leedham went to senior management and complained that Michael Hunter, our steward, had bullied him in the meeting. This was not true. However management reacted to the bullying complaint by expelling our steward. Of course management failed to conduct an investigation before suspending Michael Hunter, because they knew they had no right to interfere with the internal functioning of our union. I responded to Michael Hunter’s suspension by organising my co-workers to write statements of support for Michael. In the period following Michael Hunter’s suspension, two changes occurred on the job that would lead to my eventual termination: I became the de facto union steward and Andy Leedham, who lacked the credentials to be a supervisor, was given that job by management only a week or two after the union meeting.
41. It is possible that I would have faced a retaliatory suspension and discharge if I had only continued to pursue making public disclosures about the mismanagement of the Waste Department. It is also possible that I would have faced the detriment of suspension and termination just by being an effective union steward. After all, Michael Hunter spent 18 months suspended just because he was an effective steward. What I am certain of is that my role as a Whistle-blower was strengthened when I became a steward, and my role as a union steward was strengthened because I had the ear of the Mayor and the Chief Executive. No other union steward was fighting for their members on two fronts: first with the top echelon of Council leaders and second through building union campaigns to advance our group grievances all the way to organising a successful strike ballot.
42. My functioning as both a steward and whistle-blower strengthened the collective will of the workers I had already been speaking out for and writing up group grievances for. Once I started functioning as the union representative for the Waste Management workers, we were able to get higher up Unite officials to stand up for us. For example, on 25 October 2019, just a week after our Unite representative signed off on our group grievance, we were able to get him to appeal one of the points of the settlement. This was an important change because it signalled to management that they actually had to bargain with our union rather than just bully us into submission.
43. The more I asserted myself as a union leader, the stronger we became as a union. One example is how we conducted our fight to get all the loaders reclassified to a higher pay grade which was agreed to at ACAS, but which management later reneged on. On 12 February 2019, we received information from our Unite representative on how the discussions on this issue were proceeding with management. On 8 March 2019, the waste services workers I represented were asked to vote on the pay offer from management. We rejected the offer.
44. When it became clear that we were getting nowhere in our further negotiations on the pay issue, I successfully recommended my co-workers to vote yes on a strike ballot that occurred in May 2019. This led to management agreeing to meet with Unite representatives including me with ACAS to try to settle the issue. We started meeting with ACAS on 5 June 2019. On 10 June 2019, we announced strike dates to make clear that if the discussions with ACAS failed to resolve the issue we were ready to strike. We ended up reaching a settlement through the ACAS mediation process. However, when it became clear that management was reneging on the settlement in July 2019, we started to regroup and plan further actions.
45. On the public disclosure side of my efforts, I began to make more progress after October 2018. On 27 November 2018, I raised a series of job related issues in a workshop with the Mayor. I reported on financial mismanagement of the Department, bullying and harassment of workers by management and the issue of pay-related job classification issues and other issues. I followed this up with the submission of a group grievance signed by 44 workers to the Mayor on many of the same issues we had raised in the past. I felt we were finally breaking through the policy of ignoring our concerns when we finally had a meeting with the Mayor and Chief Executive of the council at the Folkestone Road Depot on 17 April 2019. On 10 May 2019, I finally had a meeting to discuss a grievance I had filed with the Mayor’s office in 2017. I was persistent in trying to get results from the Mayor’s office. The Mayor’s office responded to the pressure by placing demands on Human Resources and our management for results, such as finally issuing the Culture Review Report on our workplace on 24 April 2019.
46. Our efforts to build community support also began to yield results. On 13 May and 21 May, a reporter from Archant news, which publishes the Newham Recorder and is the largest publisher of community newspapers in Britain, emailed the Mayor with questions concerning our struggle. On 12 June a local Labour Councillor weighed in on our side over the pay increase/grade reclassification of Newham workers. My policy of fighting for the needs of the workers I represented using traditional trade union tactics and asking Newham Council’s political leaders to act for us was shaking up things in Newham Council and changing the balance of power in favour of the workers.
47. I am including a timeline of three sequences of events that resulted in my unfair and wrongful/discriminatory suspension as an appendix. It includes a timeline of my grievances to the Mayor and her office’s response; a timeline of my activities as a union steward, specifically the group grievances I pursued with management; and lastly, the individuals I represented as a steward and the detriment I suffered and they suffered. There is a good deal of overlap between my work as a union steward and the grievances I submitted to the Mayor. I think the timelines provide a sense of the escalation of pressures mounting on management to act fairly and reasonably and, as will be clear below, how that led to an escalation of management’s activities to unfairly and wrongfully suspend and terminate me.
III. Unfair and Wrong Practices that Led to My Dismissal
48. By the beginning of 2019, management continued their old tactic of discriminating against me by making adverse employment decisions to retaliate for my public disclosures and for my union actions. They also adopted a new tactic to retaliate against me and cause detriments to myself and the individual workers I was representing on the job. In December 2018, I raised a number of problems with management, including the unfair and unequal work allocations within our four trade teams. On 8 January 2019, we had a formal meeting between the Refuse and Recycling Management and our trade union at which Mr. Blackburn stated that the issue of uneven work distribution had been resolved unilaterally, that is he declared no changes would be made. Mr. Blackburn’s decision to leave the allocation of work between the different trade refuse worker teams meant I and my team had far larger work assignments and were constantly in the position of asking our supervisors to resolve difficult and dangerous situations. These very problems would be used by management as the pretext for unfairly and wrongfully suspending me and sacking me.
49. The new policy that management adopted to attack my ability to function as a union steward relied on subjecting the workers I represented to health and safety dangers. Management took one step further in trying to publicly challenge my authority as a steward by sacking many of the individual workers that I represented in meetings with management. In April 2019 I trained eight new drivers. Every worker except my last trainee was given a co-driver for two weeks so they could learn their trade route, and another two weeks with a co-driver so they could get the routine of waste collection under their belt. The last driver who I trained, George, only received eight days of training which was inadequate. I explained to Mr. Kett that it would be unsafe to put George on the road alone, especially at night. George was very worried about taking responsibility for his own route in the dark. Mr. Kett ignored our concerns for George’s safety. He sent George out after our meeting and George got into an accident that same night.
50. George and I had another meeting with Mr. Kett a week later. George learned that his wife had been rushed to the hospital to give birth to their second child while he was at work. He was very concerned about what he could do to assure that the child they had at home would be looked after. I told him that he could be entitled to child dependency leave (CDL). When he went to Mr. Kett and told him that I had advised him that he was entitled to CDL, his request for it was denied. Mr. Kett told George he could only take annual leave, while knowing full well that George had no annual leave time to take. George was one of many workers I’ve represented who were unfairly treated or sacked by management to undercut my authority as a union representative and to harm the workers I spoke up for.
51. A vulnerable worker I represented named Danny, in early July 2019, was asked to work as a single loader on his refuse truck. I had repeatedly raised the issue of the health and safety dangers of having a single loader per truck, and specifically raised this issue in a meeting I had with both Mr. Kett and Mr. Humphries on 18 June 2019. Predictably, Danny was injured on 10 July, a week after he had raised his health and safety concerns with management. He reported his injury at the office at the end of the shift as required. Danny did not ask for time off because of his injuries or make a claim against the council in part to avoid causing trouble. Another loader saw a red mark on Danny’s chest and told management what he observed. Danny was then called into the office and given a letter telling him that he was suspended for falsifying an accident report.
52. I came into work early on 10 July 2019 to represent them. Danny was very concerned that he would be sacked by management. Mr. Kett was aware that Danny had mental health issues and used Danny’s vulnerabilities to bully him into agreeing to resign and take a settlement. After the hearing ended, I walked Danny to the gate. I was worried about Danny’s reaction to what happened. I was walking him to the gate when Mr. Kett yelled at me in front of all my co-workers to get back to work. Next he tried to humiliate me and bait me into a fight after I told him, Stephen Blackburn and an HR woman that they had failed in their duty of care for Danny. Mr. Kett’s remarks were personal. I took them to be a threat.
53. A similar issue occurred the next day on 11 July 2019. We received new uniforms that day and one young lad who was an agency worker raised with me that his pants were too long. Andy Leedham, who must have overheard our conversation, came to the office window, angry and red faced and shouted to the young lad that if he had a problem he should go to see Mr. Kett. So the young lad went, as ordered, to talk to Mr. Kett. He requested that I attend with him. Mr. Kett was in the meeting room. I could see that he was looking at vehicle video footage from my team on his computer. The young lad was sacked by Mr. Kett for no reason other than his association with me. 11 July 2019 was the first day I knew that I would be disciplined. I knew at that point that he was coming after me as well.
IV. Connecting the Dots: How My Actions as a Whistle-blower and a Union Representative Led to My Unfair and Wrongful Suspension on 29 July 2019 and My Unfair and Wrongful Dismissal.
54. By 16 April 2019, it was clear that Stephen Blackburn wanted me suspended and sacked. But this meant conjuring up a reason for my dismissal that could be characterised as gross misconduct. I had always been a good employee. I had no history of repeated incidents of misconduct or absenteeism that could be manipulated into a basis for a suspension and dismissal for gross misconduct. What Mr. Blackburn knew he had was a way to turn my strengths into grounds for suspension.
55. Mr Blackburn did not need to look very far to figure out what he could use to charge me with gross misconduct, because I gave him the information he needed to discipline me when I told my supervisors and co-workers that there were two shops on my route: one at 100-102 Leytonstone Road called Stratford Food Centre and the other at 163 Odessa Road, called the Caner Supermarket that had a history of special issues centring on the disposal of cardboard boxes.
56. I had trained 8 new drivers and had obviously explained the specific practices we used at those two stores. At the Stratford Food Centre, the issue centred around the difficulty we had of removing the boxes from the basically right-sized commercial bin the shop used for rubbish disposal. The Stratford Food Centre under-generated waste most of the time. Sometimes the bin they rented contained more space than was needed for the refuse that the Food Centre disposed of. There were other times when the shop generated enough waste to fill the bin up right to the top if it packed its refuse tightly in the bin and placed damp cardboard right on top of their refuse heap. Finally there were rare occasions when the Food Centre over-generated waste.
57. Whenever the refuse was tightly packed into the bin the trash stuck together. My crew had to remove the cardboard boxes manually, so that the loaders could get all the packed in trash into the truck. I had reported this problem to my supervisor Mickey Neale long before April 2019. Mr. Neale informed me that we should instruct the store to place his cardboard boxes at the side of or on top of his bin. I also explained to Mr. Neale that I believed that there were occasions when the store owner over-generated trash, but those weeks were balanced out by the weeks when trash was under-generated. Mr. Neale told me that I should use my discretion and report the over generation of trash if it became a frequent problem, but otherwise try to gauge whether the periods of under-generation compensated for the periods of over-generation so that the store owner would not have to unfairly pay the Council for a bigger bin.
58. Given the discretionary policy Mr. Neale told me to use, it is no surprise that the evidence against me consisted of 6 weeks of footage collected over 17 weeks of trash pick up. Basically, the Food Centre over-generated waste about a third of the time and under-generated waste two thirds of the time. It is worth noting that Leedham and Blackburn had originally included CCTV footage from Tuesday 21 May 2019, but quickly removed it from the investigation when they learned that I was off work that day and so a different driver was following my same routine. The footage from that Tuesday and all the other Tuesdays that was not used would have exonerated me. They started by telling me that they would show me 8 weeks of footage, but when I was actually given a chance to see the footage, I was only shown 6 weeks.
59. In the past there had been a similar problem with the trash generated at the Caner Supermarket at 163 Odessa Road. The trash the shop generated could fit into the bin they were paying for but the bin was placed under a leaky tap. When the loaders dumped the bins they became covered with water. The solution we worked out was that the store would keep its trash someplace dry and leave its broken down boxes by the side or on top of the bin. It was common knowledge that soggy cardboard is easier to stuff into a trash bin than dry cardboard, allowing the owner to place the cardboard boxes outside the bin eliminated any temptation to wet down the trash in order to condense it into the bin.
60. In Andy Leedham’s statement, he stated that he was not looking for any other wrongdoing on my part. But then he got lucky over the alleged over-generation of trash at the Caner Market. I have already described the saga of the tenant’s trash bin, so I will not repeat it here. I said I reported the problem to my supervisor as soon as I encountered it, and when it was not resolved after about a month of assurances that it would be resolved, I marked the issue in two of my report sheets.
61. What is ironic about my discipline is that it is based on precisely the things that made me respected, popular, and trusted by my co-workers, honest managers, and the community. My honesty, my commitment to fairness, dedication to maintaining the same routine week-in and week-out, to saving money for the Council and being a model community representative of the Council’s commitment to serving the community, and finally my desire to solve problems rather than create them were turned against me. Did I count the change I received from one of my long-standing clients? Of course not. I wanted them to know we could have an equal relationship based on mutual trust and respect. Did I follow the same routine every week? Yes, it’s what I was known for. Did I report customers I knew by shop name when they over-generated trash? Obviously I did. They knew and I knew that was one of my job responsibilities.
V. The Bias of the Managers that Charged Me with Gross Misconduct.
62. I have catalogued the specific procedural violations that have occurred in an appendix.
63. I never had any discussions with Andy Leedham after he engineered Michael Hunter’s suspension and then forced his son to resign. I brought eight complaints by workers against Andy Leedham after he became a supervisor. I disputed his qualifications to be a supervisor and said that it was obvious he was rewarded for his attack against our union. Andy said in his statement that he had gotten to know me after he became a supervisor, which was not true. Maybe he said it to act like he was objective. In any case, when Stephen Blackburn chose Andy to be his assistant, he definitely chose the right person. An honest supervisor would never agree to be complicit in using a pack of lies to get me unfairly suspended and dismissed.
64. As is clear from what I already said, Stephen Blackburn was no fan of mine. We had a long history of disputes. He was the person who would be held responsible by the Council, top managers and community for all the misdeeds I raised to the Mayor and Chief Executive. He was clearly the trouble-shooter behind my sacking and he had to know better than to do what he did to me. Suspending me without warning or trying to solve the problem first; skipping over any lesser disciplines; sneaking around the backs of my managers to build a case against me; never even interviewing the shopkeepers in his rush to get me gone; allowing David Humphries to dismiss key facts in his investigation of me; characterising a 20p discount as a bribe and me a fraud for whatever else I could be doing; from start to finish, the whole sordid process was unfair, unreasonable, and unconscionable.
65. If you just connect the dots it is easy see how the increasing boldness of the workers, including a willingness to strike during a time when no one else was striking, which was built on my example and my leadership made the Waste Department management eager to get rid of me quickly even if doing so meant violating their own policies. Under my leadership our union was becoming more unified and more determined to act. We were shifting the balance of power away from high-handed bullying policies of management to the creation of more democratic rights for ourselves. We were poised to win. Restoring the status quo must have seemed impossible to Stephen Blackburn so long as I remained on the job.
66. Stephen Blackburn asked Human Resources for permission to suspend me on 2 May 2019. He received permission to do so from HR on 22 May 2019. David Humphries took over the process and wrote our letters of suspension on 28 May 2019. After that, no time looked like a good time to proceed. It was not until the end of July, a peak vacation time, when Council meetings and Mayoral surgeries shut down until the Autumn, and the possibility of a strike was clearly in the rear-view mirror that I received my suspension. Suspend-now-investigate-later was the Stephen Blackburn/David Humphries’ strategy at the end of July. During the time that Blackburn was in his post, more people had been suspended and terminated than any other time in my 16 years of employment. There were several dangers to waiting until September to carry out the suspension. Management was on the verge of reneging on the ACAS solution. Management also learned from Michael Hunter’s suspension that if they waited until the Autumn to suspend, a new leader could emerge and win the support of their co-workers and community and place demands on the local Council.
67. The constant delays by management and financial hardship that this whole process created damaged my health and made me sick. When my mother became very ill and then died, management was in a rush to move things forward anyway. They showed no care of duty.
68. I hope this Tribunal will see through the pretend fair and reasonable procedures that management will be looking to stand on. I would like to be reinstated to prevent the chilling effect my dismissal could have on free speech and union rights. I want to thank the Tribunal in advance for the time you have taken to read my statement and the hours more we will spend together when my hearing begins.
Dennis Carabott’s witness statement can be read online at https://tinyurl.com/3z46sy6m
Sign the petition to reinstate Dennis Carabott at https://tinyurl.com/yv29mwp3
DEFEND OUR NEW INDEPENDENT STRIKE LEADERS
Reinstate Dennis Carabott NOW
Everyone out to Dennis’s East London Employment Tribunal Hearing 25-29 September
Bring our movement of workers & the community into the streets and into the courtroom!
We the undersigned demand that Newham Council:
- Immediately reinstates Dennis Carabott to his position in the Newham Refuse Department;
- Guarantees the future of Queen’s Market. The Queen’s Market traders should control running the market and deciding on the needed improvement funded by Newham Council.
3. Pledge to build a mass mobilization of supporters at Mr. Carabott’s East London Employment Tribunal hearing from 25-29 September.
Scan the code above to go to the petition website, or copy the link https://tinyurl.com/yv29mwp3
We must stop Newham Council from getting away with sacking one of Newham’s best known and most effective union and community leaders, Dennis Carabott. Mr. Carabott has worked for Newham Council for sixteen years. He has been a truck driver, team leader and teacher and mentor for new drivers for most of those years. He has an unblemished record of service. He was sacked by Newham Council on blatantly false, manufactured charges of misconduct because he was so successful at fighting for his co-workers as a union leader and for the community he served.
Mr.Carabott played a decisive role in the decision of Newham and Tower Hamlets refuse workers overwhelmingly yes votes on their recent strike ballotts despite his termination. Win or lose his employment case, he is ready and eager to lead our upcoming strikes.
Dennis Carabott’s Employment Tribunal case begins on 25th September at the East London Employment Tribunal. The case is slated to go for 5 days. The Newham Strike to Win Committee must win Mr. Carabott’s reinstatement. We need our natural allies to join the fight, including the traders and the shoppers at Queen’s Market who are also fighting against the Newham Refuse and Waste Department managers to save and improve the market.
We can win in court if we are putting the movement back into our strike movement by taking our fight to the streets, to the picket lines and to Newham’s Labour Party Council and Mayor. A win for Dennis is inseparable from the forging and emerging of new leaders for our movement. We need to win Mr. Carabott’s case to send a message to every Tory MP and Labour Party Council that victimising our leaders will accomplish nothing more than strengthening of our movement.
23 August 2023