Tuesday 28 September 2010

Campaign Against Discrimination Of Disabled Newham Council Worker

Yesterday morning, I bumped into Newham union activist Elane Heffernan at the Royal London Hospital - by chance, we were both there to see the same orthopaedic surgeon. Elane told me a little about the appalling way that Newham council and NHS Newham has treated her since a workplace accident in 2006, which has led to the need for disability adaptations to continue her work for the Migrant Advice & Advocacy Service.

These adaptations are hardly substantial - they include voice-activated computer software and a telephone headset to be able to work comfortably. However, the council has been extremely unwilling to implement them and instead has isolated Elane from her work colleague in another building where she has had to help patients by working from a coffee table - which is causing more and more pain and stress.

It is quite clear from what Elane told me that instead of fulfilling its positive and proactive duty, under the Disability Discrimination Act and the Equalities Act that comes into force on Friday, to take steps to remove, reduce or prevent the obstacles a disabled worker faces, Newham council and NHS Newham are looking for any way they can to pay her off and drive her out. The reason? Because she is an active trade unionist (and a member of the SWP).

This is not only discrimination and harassment of a disabled employee and an attack on a union activist. It's wilfully unlawful. Elane wants to continue supporting patients from migrant backgrounds and doesn't want to be forced out, no matter the payout her employer cynically offers instead of fulfilling its legal responsibilities. Not for the first time, I'm relieved that I don't work for Newham council - the way they have responded to the considerable physical difficulties and discomfort that Elane has faced for four years is in marked contrast to the support I've had so far from my own (charity) employer. It's also another example of many where the council tries to spend its way out of a problem (with our money) rather than act responsibly.

There is a campaign to support Elane and a petition available from letelanework@yahoo.co.uk. Pressure is important - so please collect signatures from your workplace and contacts.

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