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Scots charity chief claims she was sacked after wanting to stand as Labour MP

This news post is over 1 year old

Tribunal judge ruled she would not have been dismissed if she did not intend to stand

A charity chief says she was sacked from her former role as head of membership and policy at the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) because she wanted to stand as a Labour MP.

Polly Jones, who now heads up foodbank charity the Trussell Trust in Scotland, took legal action against her former employer after her contract was terminated because she wanted to fight the seat of Argyll and Bute (held by the SNP) at the general election.

Although SFHA employees are allowed membership of political parties, the organisation, which says it is politically neutral, has a clause in employees’ contracts saying staff should not hold any "formal role" politically, without defining what formal means.

After telling her employer she intended to stand for the seat and trying to clarify what the contract clause meant, Jones said she was told she faced the choice of either standing for Labour or resigning from SFHA.

In the end, Jones said she had no choice but to ditch standing for election because she couldn't afford to leave her £50,000 a year post.

"I asked my boss if I could stand. Sometimes your contract says you can't do this type of thing. But my contract didn't say that. It wasn't clear, ", she told the Herald on Sunday.

"But she came back to me a week later and decided it wasn't possible.

"She said I had to choose between the job and standing for election. So I told her that I needed my job. I carried on with my job.

“I said I was disappointed and that it was a pretty normal thing to want to do in the kind of organisations we work for I thought everything would be fine. But clearly she was not of the same view and a couple of weeks later I got an email sacking me with immediate effect."

Jones said she was sacked by email while working from home, with the message saying she couldn't pick up her belongings from the SFHA office in Glasgow’s St Vincent Street; instead they would be sent to her home in Helensburgh.

Consequently Jones took legal advice which allowed her to take forward a case of unfair dismissal despite being in post for less than two years - which is the normal requirement by law.

The case was first lodged in December 2020 but postponed through the covid backlog. In the tribunal's findings in July, judge Lord Summers accepted that "but for her candidacy for Scottish Labour she would not have been dismissed. In that sense her dismissal is related to her opinions and affiliation."

However, he also ruled that she could not claim that she was "unfairly dismissed" for her opinions.

Jones said: "I think there is a huge amount employers should be doing to help people who want to stand.

"Our parliaments do not reflect our communities. Definitely in the case of women, but for lots of different groups of people. If people don't stand the pool of candidates and representatives gets narrower and narrower.

"Employers need to be smarter about this. And there are employers who see employees elected and they are really proud of it."

Jones is still considering running as a parliamentary candidate for Scottish Labour, either for Westminster or Holyrood.

Peter Hunter, Unison regional manager, said: "Many employees in Scotland have contracts which bar them from taking part in party political activity. No offence to our councillors and parliamentarians but it might be argued we need all the talent we can get.

"Polly's case means that it may be unlawful to ban staff from that civic commitment of standing for election or just getting involved in democracy.

"Your political beliefs are a protected characteristic and this will have far reaching consequences particularly in the public sector. Civil servants and local govt employees in particular will now be allowed to stand for election and take part in public political activity.  

"Through principle and determination Polly has changed employment law in Scotland. We hope it opens the door for all workers interested in representing their communities, locally or nationally, without interference by employers."

Polly Jones also said the SFHA tired to gag her from speaking to the press but reached an agreement allowing her to speak about the case after she donated a pay off to three groups helping people in need.

Helen Forsyth, chair of SFHA, said: “We entirely refute the allegations made by our former employee. We chose to settle this case in the interests of making best use of our resources: at a time when our members are facing increasingly serious challenges, it is vital that we are fully focused on supporting them in every way we can.”



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