Saturday, December 12, 2015

Self-indulgent Saturday & Sunday #6

Self-indulgent #6 coming up (#5 is here, with earlier links to #1 to #4).

From here onward I'm dividing remaining stories into three segments: work/play/home & family. Starting today with what's likely to be the most boring segment:

As the bells rang in New Year 1971 I don't remember whether I was still in Berverley or had moved to be with Bill in Brighton, on the south coast of England. Detailed recollection has blurred. Never mind. Our sojourn in Brighton didn't last long. We moved back north, to Leeds after less than a year, then followed a further couple of years of general muddle and mis-direction. I eventually found a job in the Sales Office of a company who manufactured computer paper (that stuff with green and white lines and holes down each side - remember?) It was just secretarial work for the regional manager, and one or two representatives. This job was alright, though not very stimulating - undemanding. I was on my own in the office for much of the time. Following some reorganisation the Leeds office was closed after a couple of years, yours truly was made redundant. That redundancy did me a big favour. After haunting the Job Centre I eventually landed a post as Clerical Officer in the Civil Service.

I would remain in the Civil Service from July 1975 until retirement some 24 years later. My new job was in the Regional Office of what were then known as The Industrial Tribunals. These days they're called Employment Tribunals. I began as a straight-forward Clerical Officer, dealing with the administrative side of applications from people who had suffered unfair dismissal, or problems with redundancy payments, or had suffered racial or sex discrimination, or had problems relating to equal pay. After a few months the Regional Secretary asked if I'd enjoy "acting up": standing in as Tribunal Clerk when needed. I would, and did.

The Tribunal Clerk's job, back then, was usually carried out by Executive Officers. There were four EOs in the office to cover three tribunal rooms in Leeds, one in a nearby town and one in Hull, an hour's train ride away. I was often called on to assist - in fact it became more or less permanent. I didn't achieve actual promotion to Executive Officer status until the early 1980s, after moving to another department for a year to extend my experience. Once I passed the interview and achieved EO status I returned to the Tribunals and continued as Tribunal Clerk. I travelled out more often, sometimes even to one of the Tribunal offices in London, for weeks. The job was fascinating. I understand that things have changed quite a bit since my day so can relate only my own experience of the job.

The Tribunal Clerk would first meet the parties: applicant, respondent and their representatives (lawyers/union reps) and witnesses. Procedure had to be explained, details taken, questions answered, nerves calmed. The parties were then ushered into a Tribunal Room. Tribunal hearings were open to the press and public. The photograph below is of a mock tribunal set-up, but gives a general idea of the type of scene in a typical Tribunal room.

Hat-tip HERE

Tribunals consisted of a Chairman (a well-respected lawyer or judge) some were permanently with the Tribunal Office, others part-time; and two lay-members drawn from a list of people with some knowledge and standing in the commercial, industrial or service worlds, one from what could be termed "the employer's side" and one from "the employee's side" - usually the latter was a Union official or someone with the same type of experience; the former perhaps someone from Chamber of Commerce or an ex-employer of some standing.

As the Chairman and Members entered the room the parties and onlookers were asked to "Stand please!" Seated once more the hearing proper began. In those early years the Clerk remained in the room throughout, took notes, administered the Oath to witnesses, handed exhibits to the Tribunal Chairman and Members. Hearings ranged in length from a full day to several days (occasionally weeks) of evidence. Observing the skill of the Chairman in delivering his detailed decision, after discussions with the Lay Members, having absorbed all the evidence presented with minimal notes to assist, was always absolutely fascinating to me.

As time went on duties and procedures changed. Actual dates are foggy, but by late 1980s the work of the office had grown so much that a move to larger premises became essential. We weren't fully computerised until, I think, the early 1990s, but even then most paper documents were retained. We were being involved in different categories of cases. Clerical Officers were trained to take over the job of Tribunal Clerks, while the Executive Officers, myself included, became section managers.

I was chosen to manage the "Listing Section" consisting of between 5 and 7 Clerical Officers. I was responsible for listing cases to be heard, on a certain date, in a given location, always listing some "spare" cases to make certain the tribunal was not left twiddling their thumbs if the primary case settled at the last minute - as happened regularly. My aim was to keep the Tribunal Rooms filled, and "earning their keep". It was my job, also, to allocate each case to a set of Chairman and Members, booking the Chairmen (if part-time) and the lay-members - all by telephone following up with a notice, and ensuring the case parties, chairmen and members all arrived at the right place on the right date at the correct time. When a last-minute settlement happened another set of parties had to be alerted, often with very little notice. There was lots of room for error, making it necessary to be ultra careful and accurate, always, or things could become very hairy very quickly! Mine could be a stressful job, nobody else wanted it, but I loved it - and though I say it myself, I was good at it - it suited me. The staff management side had to be done too, of course. I didn't enjoy having to write copious amounts of critical and/or back-slapping "stuff" about my team once a year - but it had to be done.

My section was also responsible for dealing with requests for postponement of hearings, and other mailed-in enquiries, and for answering phone calls relative to same. This could, on occasion, become quite lengthy and difficult, especially if a chairman had refused a request for postponement of an important case! I still clearly recall taking such a call just before leaving the office one evening. The caller argued and on and on. I was alone in the office. The whole building had been locked up by the time I'd placated the caller sufficiently; I couldn't find the caretaker to let me out! Trapped! I phoned Bill to tell him I'd be late - and I was, very late. Wandering around 7 or 8 floors looking for another live body I eventually heard the sound of a lone cleaner somewhere, tracked them down and was given the caretaker's phone number.

In time I became senior of the Executive Officers in the office and as such was responsible for taking charge of the whole office in the Manager's absence. I'd sometimes wondered if I could achieve promotion to the next management grade, HEO, and did attempt one interview, for a post as Conciliation Officer (a different but associated department dealing with arbitration and settlements). Not being a driver was a strike against me, but not a complete no-no - that'd be my age at the time. A lot of costly training would have to be undertaken, and it'd go to waste on someone with just a few years to go before retirement. Retirement was at 60 for Executive Officers and above, and was not too far away for me at that point.

If anyone's up for a bit of light reading, here are links to a couple of fairly recent reports of Tribunal hearings in Leeds - my old stomping ground - to give you an idea of what's what:

There were vacations - lots of 'em. More on some of these - and more, next time.


mike said...

I can see how you would excel at employment disputes and administrative affairs with Saturn at the midheaven; Venus in Sagittarius, 6th house; Mercury in Capricorn, 7th house; Jupiter in the 9th house. Conducive toward legal affairs and smooth-efficient procedures. It's unfortunate that you never received your wings for the Conciliation Officer position. I read your links and it sounds as if some of the cases being heard would be fascinating. What was the weirdest case you remember? Were there times you felt that either side had won, but unfairly (as in employer or employee was lying, or under-represented)?

I was involved in a case many years ago. Here in the USA, at that time, it was heard through the state's Employment Security Administration. I had a full-time, temporary position over one summer painting the pipes of the city's water treatment plant. I was a student and the position was paid through a special, federal grant the city had obtained. There were three of us painters. We had three months to complete the task, but being busy little bees, we were way ahead, so the manager of the water plant had us doing non-related tasks. One day, we were asked to clean-out the main water intake located at the side of the river, from which the water was drawn-in. The intake was a huge, very deep, concrete structure that narrowed at the bottom. The water that fed into this cavern had been shut-off, but still leaked a lot of water into the vault. The floor had a decent incline, which funneled into a grate about two feet square at the bottom, which was the river water intake into the treatment plant. We were instructed to clean-out any branches, rocks, etc from the bottom, particularly the grate. One of my fellow workers caught his foot in the grating and couldn't get it unstuck. The water leaking into the vault couldn't drain through the grate with his foot-leg stuck, so the water level began to rise. Employee number two went for help, but had to drive to the treatment plant on the other side of the river, about a twenty minute drive (had to cross a bridge about ten miles down the road). My stuck co-worker began to panic as the water was rising rapidly, finally reaching his chin (he was stuck down into the grating) and water to my waist at that point. I kept going under the water trying to free him. Alas, I was finally able to accomplish his freedom from the grate, but under extreme duress. Water was at his mouth at the time of escape!!! I should mention that the water was from snow melt in the nearby mountains and was extremely frigid.

We were sent home for the remainder of the day, as we were exhausted, frozen, and drenched. The three of us drove to-and-from the plant together from a nearby town. On the way home, the guy with the stuck foot-leg was very angry and stopped at the Employment Security Office to file a complaint, essentially for unsafe work conditions arising from performing tasks not in accord with the work grant. The three of us were fired the next day!

mike (again) said...


This incident became a VERY long and drawn-out affair and the hearing was held about six months later. The guy that had his foot-leg stuck didn't testify or go to the hearing, because he had since married and acquired a new job, and didn't want to risk his job by taking time-off. The co-worker that drove for help was hired back to complete the painting and he was paid back wages. I had returned to college and was paid severance wages for improper firing. The city's legal team turned the incident into a seemingly minor event and made it sound as if the three of us temporary workers were being over-zealous and incompetent. It was difficult to attend the hearing and listen to the city's side of events. I lost confidence in the ability to determine truth and accuracy, if lawyers are involved. Employment Security was representing us workers, but the city had their talented staff of lawyers. The most galling was the worker that originally filed the complaint withdrew, but it was his complaint that got us fired. He was the one that almost lost his life.

Sonny G said...

What an amazing career you had, Annie and I agree, it sounds very well suited to you..

this is such a wonderful read and I thank you for sharing it with us.

Mike, that had to be a very scary experience but I am proud of you as no doubt you saved the mans life.
Lawyers twist the facts to suit whoever is paying them.. Justice is a joke in most cases.

I spent an hour this morning signing petitions to DUMP TRUMP. I dont have high hopes of that occuring but if theres any possibility, I wanted to be part of it.

anyjazz said...

Sounds like a lot of really hard work. And really satisfying.

Twilight said...

mike ~ Thanks - and for your own experience of a US style tribunal-like experience.
That was quite an adventure you had - and an example of bravery and loyalty to one's workmate. Well done you! :-)

It's so long ago, and with so much change having happened to me since my working life, that I really don't recall much detail of individual hearings. All Tribunal staff had to sign the Official Secrets Act on engagement, so it could also be that I intentionally didn't retain much detail in memory. I do remember that I was never bored while acting as Tribunal Clerk.

One tiny detail that has remained in memory, from a long ago Sex Discrimination case relating to sexual harassment in a factory environment, when a female witness described how one of her supervisors (male) would put his penis in her ear as he passed where she worked. How she didn't simply reach up and....well give it a good twist, I'll never understand. ;-/ I guess she was afraid of losing her job - there was a lot of that. Discrimination cases, sex/racial were often the most interesting, and possibly the most tricky to decide upon for the tribunals.

As for the fairness/unfairness of results - Chairmen's decisions had to be based closely on the laws being administered - interpretation of them to fit the exact detail of each case, as well as any Contracts of Employment under which employees were engaged. Unrepresented parties were always given assistance by the Chairman, so that they understood which points were most relevant to bring out in their evidence. I don't recall ever feeling strongly that a decision was wrong, though I sometimes sympathised with the losing party - employee or employer, when the law had to be followed even though it seemed like a harsh outcome.

Twilight said...

Sonny ~ Thank you! I share your cynicism about some lawyers' doings, but honestly - in my time at the Tribunals I had nothing but respect for every lawyer I met, either on the Tribunal side or those representing the parties. Perhaps in that specialised side of the law a certain type of lawyer was more likely to be drawn into it.

mike (again) said...

Sonny - I'm all for dumping The Donald, but that still leaves Dr Ben, and he's almost as scary as Trump. Get rid of both of them and there's still a vast assortment of deranged personalities, but they wear their political camouflage a bit better, with just a tad of the reptile showing. As you indicated several days ago, should The Donald and-or Dr Ben go rogue, it will split the Republican votes to a minority all the way around. As The Donald would say, "they're all LOSERS!". Personally, I'm enjoying the carnival and the Republicans have never been as exciting as they are now...LOL. It wouldn't surprise me should The Donald have success in his bid for presidency...disappointed,sure...surprised, no...worried for America, certainly. The electorate is fickle and obscure.

Twilight said...

anyjazz ~ It could be a demanding job, and hair-raising at times, managing the Listing Section, but mostly satisfying - yes, and I should also say that it was made pleasurable because I was lucky to have good staff assisting. ;-)

mike (again) said...

Twilight, do you see your astrology fitting your career? Obviously, from your description, it fit you well, but I guess I'm going for your "Arty-farty Friday", astro-interpretation, does-this-natal-chart-fit-this-person synopsis.

Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ Yes, I think this latter part of my working life does fit my natal chart, the Saturn in me likes legal stuff, the Aquarius in me likes a bit of social justice. I was thinking as I prepared the post, that several members of my Dad's family seem to have this Saturn/Legal/government job vibe to them - even Dad himself, after moving on from his bakery business became a Sub-postmaster. Maybe it's part of the family DNA.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time working in the County Record Office (which was local government), and hotels too though. I suppose I've Venus in Sagittarius and Jupiter in Pisces to thank for the hotel addiction. :-) All in all perhaps my chart's splash shape reflects the variety. :-) you think your astrology fits your own career?

mike (again) said...

Yes, very much so. I was always intrigued with anything science as a child. I worked in laboratories for most of my adult life, with the last twenty years in purification process development for biotechnology companies making human, recombinant, protein parenterals. Everything from designing small-scale purification methods, scale-up, process transfer to manufacturing, process validation, and process problem solving. Column chromatography was my "thing"...fascinated me that a target protein could be purified away from all of the undesirable contaminants to achieve an ultra-pure product.

My sixth house Scorpio stellium came in handy for research and problem solving. Jupiter at the Aquarius midheaven made for a decent career, plus the sci-fi, Aquarian aspect of biotech. Virgo Moon gave me an intuitive touch for details and analysis. My Mars-Saturn square provided endurance and the glue to see things through, specially with the Scorpio planets at the midpoint (semi-square).

Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ Ooooh!! - I didn't understand a word of that but think I get the general idea and am impressed! :-)