In the 1960s and 1970s before the darkness of Margaret Thatcher (some would say daylight!) fell over the Trade Unions the working man turned to his union in times of trouble and the union either helped them directly with their problem or referred them to a solicitor. As it became less popular to be in a union this process has become less well known but still some people turn to their union when they have had a problem. This was and is still particularly prevalent when an accident has occurred.
The difficulty about going to your union is that some of them still think that they should have an opinion of their own about injury claims. Sometimes what could be a good claim never goes as far as the solicitor because the union representative has said “sorry lad – there is nothing down for you”.
If the rep. is well versed in matters legal then not a lot may be lost but there have been lots of occasions when I have seen Trade Unions badly let down their members. In the 1980s I acted for a caretaker who had fallen from a ladder and badly hurt himself. The caretaker went to his union rep. who wanted to pass his opinion over the claim. He then chatted to another colleague and another and before you knew it the claim was lost in a sea of opinions and the caretaker went uncompensated. It was only as a result of a chance conversation about something else that he told me about it. The claim by that stage was three years and seven months old and beyond the primary limitation period.
The claim was met by the union who accepted that they had done nothing with what was otherwise a good claim.
Another problem with union solicitors is that some never meet their clients. Recently we took over a claim that a union firm had been dealing with for two years. They had seen the papers and had three opinions from Counsel. Counsel advised that there was no prospect of success. All of the instructions had passed through the dreaded union representative. The client spent ten minutes with me in my office and I asked him to obtain some photographs of the offending equipment. The photographs were sent to the insurers and they immediately admitted liability. The photographs showed a clear breach of the PUWER regulations. All this was because the client never met the lawyer.
The final problem with union solicitors is the fact that the employers are usually insured with one insurer for a type of risk. They use the same solicitors and the union and the insurer solicitors become stalemated. They both know how far the other will go and the surprise is lost. That complacency does not exist when the union is not involved.
Please do not think that this article is anti-trade union. It is not. The simple fact is though that with access to justice being far easier these days the union and the union solicitors may be something that is now not needed.