Anti-stress campaigner seeks support from top politicians

A FORMER Scottish Borders Council (SBC) employee, dismissed last year while on sick leave, has welcomed the commitment of outgoing leader David Parker, highlighted in last week’s Southern, to tackle work-related stress “head on”.

But Gordon Branston, who held a £25,000-a-year post in SBC’s wellbeing and safety department, has this week stepped up his call for the new council, elected today, to immediately adopt what he calls a “zero tolerance policy on abuse by management”.

Mr Branston, 47, from Ettrickbridge has written seeking support for his cause to, among others, Borders Lib Dem MP and Scottish Secretary Michael Moore as well as local MSPs John Lamont (Con) and Christine Grahame (SNP).

In his letter, sent on Tuesday to coincide with International Workers’ Day, he compares the management regime at Newtown, as it was applied to him, with that of apartheid regime South Africa and claims he is acting on behalf of council employees “tasked with assisting you in achieving your party’s manifesto pledges”.

Mr Branston says that since TheSouthern reported his claim that work-related stress at SBC was at pandemic levels, he had received “a substantial number of contacts with SBC employees”.

“I have had two meetings with ex-employees and letters from employees in the advanced stages of taking court action on the subject of bullying, harassment and intimidation,” says Mr Branston.

He says a number of other employees, victims of “the same retributive approach condoned by SBC”, have telephoned him and spoken of the emotional harm and professional discreditation they had encountered.

For 12 years, Mr Branston worked in post-apartheid South Africa’s local, provincial and national goverments, focusing on community health leadership and social upliftment programmes.

He claims that after starting work with SBC in January last year, he learned that 47 per cent of sickness absences were down to work-related stress, but fell foul of his management when he attempted to put the issue at the core of wellbeing and safety policies.

After himself being diagnosed with work-related stress, he was dismissed in his absence last May “on the grounds there has been an irretrievable breakdown in the working relationship between you and your managers” after a hearing at which no minutes were taken.

In his letter to the politicians, Mr Branston says: “In apartheid South Africa, it was indeed an everyday norm to pronounce a judgment of guilt without any hearing transcripts or consultation with the unrepresented victim’s pleas for social justice...or respect for human rights.

“It may well be urgently prudent to undertake a reflective approach to human resources policy at SBC and its adversarial-oriented legal procedures, which include engaging in employee disciplinary hearings to dismiss employees with no accused or representative present and in breach of statutory human rights.

“Achieving your manifesto pledges will depend on inspired and motivated SBC employees and emotionally intelligent managers, who are proud of ethical princples, and on councillor-led action to implement employee protection policies in which zero tolerance of the management abuse of authority is explicit.”

Ms Grahame told us: “It is obviously of concern that there is apparently an outbreak of stress related absences at SBC, not only for those individuals affected, but also for the proper functioning of the council in the delivery of its services to the people of the Borders.

“Given that there appears to be something wrong here, it is essential that a good hard look is taken at the processes within the council: in particular, whether employees are able to air concerns freely before stress becomes overwhelming and prevents them from either working efficiently or, indeed, at all.”