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Could New Technology Eliminate Cervical Cancer?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 31/05/2024 - 6:00pm in

A 32-year-old woman has made the trek to Matibabu Hospital in western Kenya with her five young children in tow. Though she has given birth to five babies, the widow has never before been screened for cancer. Her tall, slim figure dressed in a colorful cotton dress typical for Kenya, she lies down on the table in the simple exam room for her first cancer screening. Matibabu means “medicine” or “treatment” in Saheli.

“Preventative health care is simply not available for Kenyan women,” says Melissa Miskell, an OB/GYN from Texas and executive director of PINCC (Preventing Cervical Cancer Globally), an NGO dedicated to eliminating cervical cancer worldwide. “We see 50-year-old women who have never been screened.” Her team is in the rural hospital in the Lake Victoria Region to deliver new equipment for cancer screening and treatment, and to train the local health care staff. 

But this particular exam brings devastating news: The young widow has stage four cancer, and her chances of survival are slim. The hospital can only offer her morphine for the pain.

One of PINCC’s young volunteer team members breaks down crying. “It is utterly heartbreaking to see that it’s too late,” she says in a documentary about the program. “I keep thinking of her young children. They are going to be orphans. This could all have been prevented.”

A doctor and volunteers perform an exam on a woman in Kenya.New technology has made it much simpler to screen for and treat cervical cancers in Kenya and elsewhere. Credit: PINCC

Few diseases reflect global inequities as much as cancer of the cervix. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 350,000 women die from cervical cancer globally each year — one every minute and a half. Nearly 94 percent of the deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. 

“In the US, the fatality risk of a woman with cervical cancer is approximately two to four percent,” Miskell explains. “The fatality risk of a woman with cervical cancer in a low-income country is upwards of 50 percent.” What troubles Miskell and her team most is that the illness is completely preventable.

Therefore nonprofits like PINCC, Rotary International and the Clinton Health Access Initiative are scaling up their efforts to bring new technology for screening and treating cervical cancers to low-income areas, with the goal of eliminating it completely.

PINCC was established by gynecologist Kay Taylor in 2005 after a medical mission to Honduras. Taylor saw more fatal cases of cervical cancer in that one trip than she had during her entire career in the US. So she launched the first PINCC trip to Honduras in late 2005 with only three eager volunteers and began training local health care workers in cervical cancer screening and treatment at three Honduran clinics. Since 2017, executive director Melissa Miskell has expanded PINCC’s global reach and established programs in Uganda, Kenya, Bolivia, Tanzania, Guatemala, Cameroon, Cambodia, India and Nepal.

PINCC staff and local women talk outside.The small PINCC team spends a training week in a hospital and leaves behind the state-of-the-art equipment. Credit: PINCC

“Early detection is the key to controlling cancer of all types, but cervical cancer is the one cancer we can eliminate globally,” explains Richard Godfrey, a retired surgical oncologist and Rotarian in Fremont, California, who is on the board of PINCC and has been delivering equipment to Matibabu for Rotary since 2012. “Why? Like polio, it’s caused by a virus, the human papillomavirus (HPV).”

While an active immune system can clear the virus, a weak immune system fails to prevent HPV from causing cancer. This is why women with HIV face a sixfold increased risk of cervical cancer — and in Kenya, both HIV and HPV are widespread. 

The WHO has set a goal to help all low-income countries achieve its triple-intervention targets by 2030: fully vaccinate 90 percent of girls with the HPV vaccine by the age of 15, screen 70 percent of women twice by the age of 45 and treat 90 percent of women with cervical cancer. 

In the US, too, about 13,820 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed this year, and more than 4,300 women will die from it. Regular screenings are the best way to prevent these numbers from rising. Doctors are concerned about the rise of the virus in the US and other wealthy states because HPV is estimated to be the most common sexually transmitted infection in the country. The American Social Health Association estimates that about 75 to 80 percent of sexually active Americans will be infected with HPV at some point in their lifetime, and doctors are worried about increasing vaccine hesitancy since Covid-19. Several countries, including Belgium and Austria, have made the HPV vaccines mandatory for young girls; many others offer them for free to encourage voluntary vaccination. The HPV virus also impacts men as it can cause mouth, throat and penile cancers. 

Credit: PINCC

“Early detection is the key to controlling cancer of all types, but cervical cancer is the one cancer we can eliminate globally.” –Richard Godfrey

“While I may have removed some 10,000 cancers in 35 years as a surgeon in busy California hospitals, I realized how crucial it is to prevent cancer in the first place,” Godfrey says about his motivation. During his most recent visit to Matibabu in April 2024, he delivered a new screening machine, AmpFire. This and other new technology like the HPV E6/E7 oncoprotein self-test enables women to test themselves at home or in the hospital by simply using a brush that swabs fluid and cells from the cervical surface. They then place the tip of the brush in a tube that gets transported to the testing machine at Matibabu Hospital, which can test up to a thousand samples per day. It only takes two days to set up the equipment, and the lab technician then manages testing independently.

“This is truly a revolution,” says Richard Godfrey. “We have never had an opportunity like this to eliminate a cancer.” When he first visited the region in 2012, Matibabu Hospital was a simple one-story clinic. Rotary grants helped build additions and transform the hospital into a bright, state-of-the-art clinic with three primary doctors, including an obstetrician-gynecologist and 10 nurses. The so-called Boda Boda girls, trained local motorcycle riders, get a bonus when they bring in female patients for cancer screenings.

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The clinic staff communicates the test results back to the patients through WhatsApp on mobile phones and makes appointments for those who test positive for HPV or cancer — between 10 and 20 percent — to undergo further screening. “When a woman tests negative, she does not need to return for three to five years, which saves around 80 percent of the screening work,” Godfrey says, “a major advantage of this method over the less accurate pap smears.” As many as a million women ages 30 to 60 need testing in the region, so the efforts are just getting started.

“With the HPV E6/E7 oncoprotein self-test, we can get results right there in the field in 15 minutes, screen up to 500 women a day and immediately treat them,” Miskell says about the difference between the two tests. 

Without testing, a woman usually doesn’t realize she has cervical cancer until she develops bleeding, loses weight or has more advanced signs of disease. “These women are often ostracized even by their own families,” Miskell says. Once cervical cancer spreads, it is rarely controlled even with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy — treatments hardly available or affordable in low-income countries like Kenya. 

A woman getting a cervical exam.When a woman tests negative, she does not need to be screen again for three to five years. Credit: PINCC

Six of the 47 women that Miskell’s team examines that day at Matibabu have precancerous cells and are treated on the spot, and one is diagnosed with cancer. When a biopsy reveals more advanced cancer, the nurses send the patients to a larger regional hospital for care, but in the case of the 32-year-old widow, the cancer has advanced too far for treatment, and all the doctors can offer is pain management and palliative care.

“Women are not dying because of untreatable diseases,” the late WHO scientist and OB/GYN Mahmoud Fathalia famously observed. “They are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving: We have not yet valued women’s lives and health highly enough.” 

Nowhere is that more obvious than with cervical cancer. When the nurses detect abnormal cells (dysplasia) early, they can treat it immediately. Handheld thermocoagulation devices that the PINCC team delivers now make it possible to eradicate these precancerous cells in just 20 seconds. The white, battery-powered device fits into a backpack and costs less than $1,500, but delivers a powerful impact by applying targeted 100° Celsius heat that destroys the abnormal cells in the cervix. Miskell loves that it is easy to train the local health care staff on how to use it: “It is literally impossible to harm someone, so it’s a great device,” she says.

Credit: PINCC

The waitlist to attend PINCC field trips is always full — even though the volunteers pay for their own travel costs.

Godfrey agrees: “This is huge progress over the cumbersome cryotherapy that was previously used.” The expensive equipment required heavy nitrogen tanks that were difficult to transport and frequently broke down. He is hopeful: “New technology can change things in an instant.”

After the treatment, the staff ask the women to return in a year for a recheck. 

“Women are essential not just in raising the children but they are also often the primary breadwinner,” Godfrey says. “They are crucial in holding the family together.”


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PINCC’s goal is to achieve sustainability by “training the trainers.” The small PINCC team spends a training week in a hospital and leaves behind the state-of-the-art equipment. The local staff is then able to train other health care workers. The goal is to scale up the trainings, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and India, where cancer numbers are among the highest. All the services are offered for free.

“Twenty-five percent of all cervical cancers occur in India,” Miskell says with a sigh. “But it is an incredibly difficult place to make a big difference.” Her next expansion will be to Malawi, because it is the country with the most deaths from cervical cancer in the world. “We have limited resources so we need to prioritize the countries where the situation is dire,” says Miskell, who runs the NGO with just one full-time employee. But she has a list of 400 volunteers, mostly medical students, and the waitlist to attend the field trips is always full though the volunteers pay for their own travel costs.

A PINCC staff member training locals.PINCC hopes to scale up its trainings, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and India. Credit: PINCC

She is convinced that cervical cancer can and will be eradicated globally but believes it could take about 100 years. “This is how long it will take to really vaccinate all the young girls, screen all the women and treat those who have it,” she says. “Right now, we have made a difference in specific countries, for instance, Kenya’s rate of cervical cancer deaths has dropped from 19th in the world to 26th since we started there in 2017, but globally, the cancer numbers are yet to go down.”

In addition to Kenya, Godfrey has been bringing screening equipment to Guatemala, Bolivia, Nepal and Mexico. Each country has its unique set of challenges. For instance, the political volatility in Bolivia, which has the highest cervical cancer rates in South America, has hampered sustained efforts. But Godfrey is particularly hopeful about countries like India and Kenya: “I think we’re right at the beginning phase of this being an enormous medical revolution.” 

Both Miskell and Godfrey praise Kenya’s efforts in taking the threat seriously. Ideally, girls get HPV vaccination while they’re between nine and 13 years old. Because vaccines and screenings are widely available in the US, only four out of 100,000 women in America get cervical cancer, whereas in Kenya, the rate is six times higher. “By offering more vaccines along with these new screening methods, Kenya can become a leading example for East Africa,” Godfrey believes. He will return in a year to see how much of a difference the new screening equipment he delivered has made.

The post Could New Technology Eliminate Cervical Cancer? appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Unite senior officer admits Graham asked for updates on Ogle-less Irish organisation plan

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 30/05/2024 - 6:04am in

After claiming it was ‘preposterous’ to suggest there was a plan to oust senior Irish trade unionist returning from cancer, Tom Fitzgerald finally admits under oath that plan he discussed in emails with Graham was the same one he ‘ultimately’ presented without cancer survivor Brendan Ogle

Tom Fitzgerald, a senior Unite officer close to Unite general secretary Sharon Graham has told a tribunal in Dublin that it would have been ‘controversial’ to include the name of Unite’s senior officer for Ireland Brendan Ogle’s in an organisational chart.

Ogle had lodged a grievance that he was being forced out after he returned from treatment for life-threatening cancer and has taken Unite to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) tribunal in Dublin for disability discrimination. He is also, separately, suing Unite, Graham and her ally Tony Woodhouse for defamation.

During his testimony yesterday Fitzgerald, a supporter of Graham, had told the tribunal that it was ‘preposterous on a load of levels’ to suggest there was any plan by Unite to oust Ogle, who supported a rival of Ms Graham during the 2021 general secretary election.

Ogle has testified that Fitzgerald told him during a meeting that Graham had told Fitzgerald to draw up a new organisational plan for the union in Ireland and that Ogle’s name was not to be in it. Fitzgerald denied saying this and had claimed that he was not working on the strategic plan at Graham’s behest, but was working on a regional plan or organisational review for his boss Jackie Pollock and the Irish executive.

I never had a conversation with Sharon about strategy, I was contributing to a regional plan.

Tom Fitzgerald

However, during her cross-examination of Fitzgerald, Ogle’s barrister Mary-Paula Guinness BL pointed Fitzgerald to emails between him and Graham in which Graham asked for an update regarding his plan – and that Fitzgerald went on to present a plan to the Irish executive in December 2022 that did not include Ogle. She also pointed out that Pollock had testified that as far as he was concerned, Ogle was returning to his usual job and responsibilities in full.

Fitzgerald, who was promoted to ‘regional coordinating officer’ (RCO) during Ogle’s illness, a grade 10 position like Ogle’s, said that he had presented his plan to the Irish executive and that Ogle’s name was not on the plan because it would have been ‘controversial’ to include it because he was a Grade 10. Guinness responded, “You’re a Grade 10 and you’re in it!”.

Mr Ogle wasn’t even aware of this documentation [the emails between Fitzgerald and Graham] when he gave his testimony that there clearly was a plan being headed up by you and you were going to deliver by the end of the year. That email to Sharon supports the fact that you were reporting directly to Sharon about this…

Brendan Ogle’s barrister Mary-Paula Guinness

Pressed by Guinness on whether the plan he presented in December that year – from which Ogle’s name was missing – was the same document he had been working on for Sharon Graham, Fitzgerald at first claimed that what he was discussing with Graham was a different plan. However, after further pressure from Guinness – who asked if it wasn’t the same Ogle-free plan where was the other one? Was it this document? – he eventually admitted:

It ultimately become [sic] this.

Guinness retorted, ‘Thank you Mr Fitzgerald, that’s what I was trying to get at’. She then told him, concerning his denial that he had told Ogle that Graham had said Ogle wasn’t to be in the new organisational plan,

The proof of the pudding is in the eating… we have been provided with a plan which you said you told him nothing about, which was presented in December 2022, and he’s not on it.

Fitzgerald also referred under cross examination to Ogle taking a demotion to a job more than an hour from Dublin because of his health and that he understood that when he (Fitzgerald) was promoted to RCO Ogle would be returning to the more junior role. However, Pollock’s evidence was emphatic that Ogle was coming back to his old job and that a move to Dundalk would likely have been worse for Ogle’s health, because as well as the extra daily travel, in his opinion the regional officer job was the most stressful and difficult one in the whole union.

Guinness put it to Fitzgerald that when he applied for the RCO position, the interviewing panel preferred another candidate for it until Sharon Graham intervened. Fitzgerald claimed not to be aware of it, but admitted Graham had contacted him personally to inform him of his promotion and congratulate him.

The case continues with closing arguments and submissions 18 June.

If you would like to help cover the costs of Skwawkbox’s presence in Dublin to cover the tribunal, please select one of the options below.

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Unite ‘tried to have journo report Ogle wanted punitive move to be near [dead] family’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 28/05/2024 - 7:50am in

Leading Irish trade unionist’s first case against union and general secretary Sharon Graham continues at Dublin’s Workplace Relations Commission

Unite tried to have an Irish journalist write a story that leading union figure Brendan Ogle wanted to move to Dundalk – more than an hour’s drive from his Dublin base and to a more stressful job – to be near his family when his family in Dundalk were all dead, according to unchallenged testimony given to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) in Dublin today.

Ogle, well known in Ireland for his work on the Right2Water anti-privatisation campaign and others, has taken Unite to the WRC tribunal claiming the union discriminated against him after his return from treatment for aggressive cancer and was trying to sideline him or push him out. Ogle had supported general secretary Sharon Graham’s opponent Howard Beckett during the 2021 election for the position.

His wife, Mandy La Combre, was called to testify today after Unite’s expensive lawyers tried to use a Facebook post by her about Unite’s conduct towards him – described by Unite’s barrister as a ‘hand grenade’ – as justification for the union’s chilly attitude toward her husband. She told the Commission that Irish journalist Mick Clifford told her Unite had approached him to write an article saying Ogle wanted to move to Dundalk to be near family – but Clifford had, correctly, said to her ‘but his family in Dundalk are dead, aren’t they?’

‘Yes they are’, she told him and the tribunal.

Unite’s barrister quickly shut down the conversation, but La Combre’s account was not challenged.

The tribunal also heard, from retired senior official Jacky Pollock, that he had been told by former Unite general secretary Len McCluskey that Ogle needed to ‘watch his back and keep his head down’ because of the new general secretary. Again this was not challenged – Pollock was a witness called by Unite.

Pollock told the tribunal that Ogle was originally enthusiastic about taking the job in Dundalk and that the roles offered to Ogle were ‘very very important’. Pollock was shown emails from Ogle refusing the job and complaining that the work the job involved would have taken only a couple of days a month, along with an email from former retail union general secretary John Douglas – who has given evidence supporting Ogle’s case – saying that Ogle’s ‘position was being dismantled’, a claim he denied.

Unite has claimed in the case that Ogle’s change in role was required because of the union’s ‘change of direction’ under Sharon Graham. In her cross-examination, Ogle’s barrister Mary-Paula Guinness showed Pollock evidence of activities Ogle was undertaking as part of his job and asked which of them would no longer be needed under Graham’s ‘change of direction’, which appeared to be none of them.

And Unite’s witnesses so far have claimed that the move to Dundalk was to protect Ogle from stress that might cause a recurrence of the cancer. Pollock admitted that the job in Dundalk would have been far more stressful that Ogle’s existing role;

There would have been more stress. All the regional officer jobs are the hardest job in Unite.

Pollock appeared unable to provide a clear answer as to why, if Ogle was not being pressured to take the Dundalk job, Pollock raised it on four separate occasions after Ogle had made clear he was not interested in taking it.

In a brief testimony by video, former general secretary Len McCluskey told the tribunal no one had voted on Ogle’s job as ‘senior officer’ for Ireland. However, Skwawkbox understands that the appointment was voted on twice each by the Irish and UK executive groups.

The case continues tomorrow.

Sharon Graham has previously cancelled appearances in the Republic, avoiding members’ anger and scrutiny over the union’s ‘disgraceful’ treatment of Brendan Ogle. The situation caused such outrage in Ireland that union members picketed Graham’s long-delayed visit to Dublin, Unite’s Community section condemned it as ‘disgusting’ and a whole sector branch threatened to disaffiliate.

Graham’s tenure as Unite boss has also been marked by a string of other allegations – which neither she nor the union has denied – including destruction of evidence against her husband in threat, misogyny and bullying complaints brought by union employees. She is also embroiled in a defamation lawsuit brought by Irish union legend Brendan Ogle for the union’s treatment of him and comments made about him by Graham and her close ally Tony Woodhouse.

She has also been alleged by insiders to have:

Her supporters also prevented debate and votes on Gaza at a meeting of the union’s elected executive last month.

Skwawkbox is in Dublin again to cover the continuation of the Ogle vs Unite discrimination case. If you would like to contribute toward the cost of the trip, please use one of the options shown below.

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Unite boss Graham ‘not amenable’ to Irish law, tribunal hears in Ogle discrimination case

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 05/05/2024 - 7:29am in

‘Extraordinary position’ taken by general secretary in bid to avoid testimony and cross-examination could result in prosecution

Unite union general secretary Sharon Graham has taken the ‘extraordinary position’ that she is not ‘amenable’ to Irish law, lawyers acting for senior trade unionist Brendan Ogle have told a Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) tribunal. Unite’s lawyers had first used the term during February’s session of Ogle’s discrimination case against Unite, when Ogle’s barrister Mary Paula Guinness BL raised the topic of WRC adjudicator, former UN prosecutor Elizabeth Spelman, issuing a subpoena to compel Graham’s appearance to give sworn evidence. Graham’s lawyers have subsequently confirmed her refusal to appear voluntarily.

Last Friday, the employment tribunal held a hearing, in Ogle’s Employment Equality Act 1998 complaint against Unite, of Ogle’s request for Graham, who is usually based in London, to be compelled to appear in Dublin for questioning under oath.

Ogle is claiming that Unite discriminated against him by sidelining him on his return from treatment for life-threatening cancer – and that he was told that the issue was that Graham ‘recognises loyalty’ from those who supported her in Unite’s 2021 general secretary election. Ogle, like many Irish figures and branches, supported Graham’s rival, Howard Beckett.

Graham’s lawyers argued that there is no need for Graham to appear because Unite will send a subordinate, Ogle’s former colleague, Tom Fitzgerald, to refute Ogle’s claim.

Sharon Graham has previously cancelled appearances in the Republic, avoiding members’ anger and scrutiny over the union’s ‘disgraceful’ treatment of Brendan Ogle. The situation caused such outrage in Ireland that union members picketed Graham’s long-delayed visit to Dublin, Unite’s Community section condemned it as ‘disgusting’ and a whole sector branch threatened to disaffiliate.

The tribunal had given Graham until 12 April for Ms Graham to respond to Ogle’s lawyers’ request to attend the next set of hearings at the end of this month, after which Spelman would hear legal argument the request for a formal summons. Graham did not respond. If a subpoena is eventually requested and issued, refusal to comply is a prosecutable criminal offence under Ireland’s ‘Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018‘.

Guinness, representing Ogle, told the tribunal that it is clear that Graham has “relevant information” in the case:

This is a general secretary who is general secretary over Unite in Ireland; it appears if we are to rely on the respondent’s submission that she has instructed her representatives that she is not amenable to Irish law.

She described the refusal as an “extraordinary” position, referring to Graham’s recent attendance at policy conferences in Dublin, Unite’s status as an active union in Ireland. and Ogle’s separate High Court defamation proceedings against Graham, her right-hand man Tony Woodhouse and the union, in which Graham is scheduled to appear, adding that:

She is general secretary of the whole union, including the union in Ireland. They have a head office here, her authority is exercised – it would be an unusual situation if she was to say she is not amenable to Irish law…

[Unite’s rulebook giving the general secretary sole power to change the responsibilities of union officers] all links in to the fact that in their submission they say this change arose after [Graham’s] election as general secretary.

Unite is the UK’s second-biggest union and one of only a handful of UK unions also active in the Republic of Ireland, with thousands of members in several sectors. Its lawyers claim that the WRC has no jurisdiction to compel Graham to attend.

However, if a summons is issued and Graham refuses to comply, she could face potential arrest if she returns to Ireland and a possible prison sentence and large fine under the Employment Act.

Adjudicator Spelman said she would communicate her decision on the summons in writing to both parties before the next set of hearings begins on 27 May.

In other news, Brendan Ogle announced this week that he will stand in as an independent candidate for Dublin in Ireland’s European Parliament elections in June.

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Exclusive: Graham fails to testify in Ogle discrimination case – subpoena to follow

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 18/04/2024 - 8:07am in

Failure to obey a tribunal summons is a prosecutable offence under Irish law

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham has failed to respond to a court request to give evidence in Brendan Ogle’s discrimination case against the union she leads – and now faces a subpoena, or legal summons, to compel her to attend, for which she could be prosecuted if she fails to comply.

Skwawkbox has covered the discrimination case extensively – Ogle is also suing Unite, Graham and her sidekick Tony Woodhouse over defamatory comments made about him by Graham and Woodhouse in an apparent attempt to discredit Ogle and his discrimination case.

Despite attempts by Unite’s hugely expensive legal team, in an apparent demonstration of their eagerness to keep Graham from having to give sworn testimony, to argue that she was not relevant to the case because she is the UK general secretary and other witnesses would do instead, Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) Adjudicator Elizabeth Spelman has responded to Graham’s failure to respond by inviting Ogle and his lawyers to apply for a binding subpoena to compel Graham to attend and give evidence under oath – which Ogle’s barrister Mary-Paula Guinness has already confirmed in an earlier hearing that she will do.

Ogle’s legal team has until 22 April to file its application and Unite’s lawyers have another week to respond and a hearing of the arguments will take place 7 May.

The Unite argument that she is not relevant falls apart under scrutiny, as she has featured heavily in others’ testimony during the case so far, including her allegedly telling Irish officials to inform Ogle that there was no place for him. Unite barrister Mark Harty has also said that Graham may not be ‘amenable’ to subpoena, as if a legal summons is a matter of whether one feels like being summoned.

Ogle is claiming that Unite discriminated against him by sidelining him on his return from cancer treatment – and that he was told that Graham ‘recognises loyalty’ from those who supported her in Unite’s 2021 general secretary election. Ogle, like many Irish figures and branches, supported Graham’s rival, Howard Beckett.

In last week’s sessions of the hearing, Irish Unite stalwart James ‘Junior’ Coss gave evidence corroborating Ogle’s account of sitting through the creation of a whiteboard chart about how the union would be organised after his removal, to the evident ire of the aggressive Harty, whose approach in the preceding session in February led to several ‘sidebars’ with Spelman and Ogle’s outraged barrister.

John Douglas, former general secretary of Irish retail union Mandate, also gave evidence in support of Ogle’s case, to a similar reaction from Harty.

Sharon Graham has previously cancelled appearances in the Republic, avoiding members’ anger and scrutiny over the union’s ‘disgraceful’ treatment of Brendan Ogle. The situation caused such outrage in Ireland that union members picketed Graham’s long-delayed visit to Dublin, Unite’s Community section condemned it as ‘disgusting’ and a whole sector branch threatened to disaffiliate. She did, however, briefly speak at Unite’s Irish policy conference this week, although she did not attend the union dinner with delegates.

Skwawkbox wrote to Unite to ask for comment on the issue:

Ms Graham failed to attend the Brendan Ogle hearing in Dublin by last Friday’s deadline, despite being asked to attend and testify. The Workplace Relations Commission has now invited Ogle and his lawyers to apply for a subpoena.

Please advise, no later than 5pm:

  1. Why didn’t she attend to give evidence?
  2. Does she and Unite intend to contest the subpoena request?
  3. If a subpoena is issued, non-compliance is a criminal offence under Irish law. Will she comply?

    At the time of writing, almost six hours after the reply deadline, Unite had not provided any response. Failure to obey a subpoena in employment cases is a prosecutable criminal offence under Ireland’s ‘Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018‘, with with penalties including prison sentences and large fines.

    Sharon Graham’s tenure as Unite boss has also been marked by a string of other allegations – which neither she nor the union has denied – including destruction of evidence against her husband in threat, misogyny and bullying complaints brought by union employees. She is also embroiled in a defamation lawsuit brought by Irish union legend Brendan Ogle for the union’s treatment of him and comments made about him by Graham and her close ally Tony Woodhouse.

    She has also been alleged by insiders to have:

    Her supporters also prevented debate and votes on Gaza at a meeting of the union’s elected executive last month.

    If you wish to republish this post for non-commercial use, you are welcome to do so – see here for more.

    Exclusive: Graham to be subpoena’d to testify in Ogle tribunal if she declines to appear

    Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 10/04/2024 - 7:09am in

    Latest news from today’s session of discrimination case brought by Irish trade unionist against Unite and Sharon Graham as witnesses again ‘rattle’ union barrister – and former GS Len McCluskey will be called again

    Unite general secretary Sharon Graham will be legally summonsed to appear in Dublin at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) discrimination case brought by Irish trade unionist Brendan Ogle against Graham and Unite, if she does not accept an invitation from Ogle’s lawyers. The news was confirmed after an attempt by Unite’s highly-paid barrister Mark Harty, to claim that Graham was not relevant to the case because she is the UK general secretary, was rejected by Adjudicator Elizabeth Spelman after Ogle’s lawyers pointed out that Ireland is a Unite region and Graham has overall responsibility, as well as allegedly telling Irish officials to inform Ogle that there was no place for him.

    Ogle is claiming that Unite discriminated against him by sidelining him on his return from cancer treatment – and that he was told that Graham ‘recognises loyalty’ from those who supported her in Unite’s 2021 general secretary election. Ogle, like many Irish figures and branches, supported Graham’s rival, Howard Beckett.

    The question of whether a subpoena would be issued to compel Graham to attend was left open at the end of the last three-day session of the case. Harty tried to claim Graham was not relevant to the case and may not be ‘amenable’ to subpoena, as if a legal summons is a matter of whether one feels like being summoned. Graham and her alleged words about getting rid of Ogle have featured prominently in the case so far.

    In other news from the tribunal, Irish Unite stalwart James ‘Junior’ Coss gave evidence corroborating Ogle’s account of sitting through the creation of a whiteboard chart about how the union would be organised after his removal, to the evident ire of Harty, whom attendees described as becoming extremely aggressive.

    John Douglas, former general secretary of Irish retail union Mandate, also gave evidence in support of Ogle’s case, to a similar reaction from Harty – whose approach in the preceding session in February led to several ‘sidebars’ with Spelman and Ogle’s outraged barrister Mary-Paula Guinness.

    Tomorrow’s session of the hearing was postponed after Unite’s lawyers called pro-Graham union employee Therese Maloney in an attempt to rebut former general secretary Len McCluskey’s testimony that he had assured Ogle his job would be kept open. Adjudicator Spelman ruled that McCluskey must be on hand for re-examination before Maloney can testify.

    Sharon Graham has previously cancelled appearances in the Republic, avoiding members’ anger and scrutiny over the union’s ‘disgraceful’ treatment of Brendan Ogle. The situation caused such outrage in Ireland that union members picketed Graham’s long-delayed visit to Dublin, Unite’s Community section condemned it as ‘disgusting’ and a whole sector branch threatened to disaffiliate.

    Graham’s tenure as Unite boss has also been marked by a string of other allegations – which neither she nor the union has denied – including destruction of evidence against her husband in threat, misogyny and bullying complaints brought by union employees. She is also embroiled in a defamation lawsuit brought by Irish union legend Brendan Ogle for the union’s treatment of him and comments made about him by Graham and her close ally Tony Woodhouse.

    She has also been alleged by insiders to have:

    Her supporters also prevented debate and votes on Gaza at a meeting of the union’s elected executive earlier this month.

    Failure to obey a subpoena in employment cases is a prosecutable criminal offence under Ireland’s ‘Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018‘.

    If you wish to republish this post for non-commercial use, you are welcome to do so – see here for more.

    Exclusive: Graham attacks ‘phony’ old Unite member nos – that she managed

    Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 30/03/2024 - 9:34am in

    Union general secretary’s ‘unhinged’ letter to staff, officers and organisers continues to backfire as insiders say numbers she is now attacking were part of her job to report

    Unite general secretary Sharon Graham’s bizarre letter to all the union’s staff last week, attempting to undermine a number of criticism that have been levelled at her and her management of the union, was described by union insiders as ‘unhinged’ and a ‘rant’ – and it continues to backfire.

    As Skwawkbox has already covered, Graham told recipients that the union under her will always prioritise jobs in the weapons industry above the fight to stop Israel’s genocide in Gaza. Her letter also claimed that an unfavourable interim financial report had been faked wholesale and that the forger had gone to the extent of copying the font and layout of actual reports to fool members. The union did not respond to an enquiry whether it stood by the claim despite the screenshots of the report appearing to show that it was found on the union’s official ‘Sharepoint’ network. The letter also claimed the union’s financial value was ‘pushing up towards half a billion pounds’ – but insiders say that the value was already around half a billion when she took over two and a half years ago.

    And another issue with Graham’s claims has arisen – relating to Unite’s membership figures. In an apparent attempt to refute union insiders’ claims that membership has fallen by more than two hundred thousand during her tenure, Graham wrote:

    Despite inheriting membership figures that included 32,000 members on union funded subs (essentially free) and dealing with a 60,000 loss in aviation and other areas during Covid, the work we have all put in collectively has recouped these loses and more. Furthermore, we recorded an additional 16,647 net membership increase in 2023. These are real membership increases, not the phony [sic] figures of the past.

    Emphasis added

    One insider told Skwawkbox that the 32,000 ‘essentially free’ members were in fact members supported by Unite when they lost their jobs during the pandemic, so that they could retain their membership protections until they found new work.

    But even more significantly, another said that before Ms Graham became general secretary, one of her key responsibilities as head of organising was to monitor and report on the membership – and that the membership figures before her tenure were therefore compiled and reported by her and her organising team.

    The senior insider told Skwawkbox:

    The figures she’s calling phoney are her own figures.

    Skwawkbox wrote to Unite:

    Another question with regard to Ms Graham’s email to officers, organisers and staff. This one concerns her claim of ‘phony [membership] figures of the past’. She wrote:

    Despite inheriting membership figures that included 32,000 members on union funded subs (essentially free) and dealing with a 60,000 loss in aviation and other areas during Covid, the work we have all put in collectively has recouped these loses and more. Furthermore, we recorded an additional 16,647 net membership increase in 2023. These are real membership increases, not the phony figures of the past.

    Ms Graham as head of organising was responsible for reporting membership figures to the general secretary and executive. Is she really saying that she submitted ‘phony’ [sic] numbers? By 5pm today, please.

    At the time of writing, more than ninety minutes after the reply deadline provided as standard journalistic practice, no reply had been received from the union.

    The outrage provoked by the letter is not the first time members have been angered over Sharon Graham’s position on Gaza. She has been alleged by insiders to have:

    Her supporters also prevented debate and votes on Gaza at a meeting of the union’s elected executive earlier this month.

    Her tenure as Unite boss has also been marked by a string of other allegations – which neither she nor the union has denied – including destruction of evidence against her husband in threat, misogyny and bullying complaints brought by union employees. She is also embroiled in both an employment tribunal for discrimination and a defamation lawsuit brought by Irish union legend Brendan Ogle for the union’s treatment of him and comments made about him by Graham and her close ally Tony Woodhouse.

    According to human rights group Euro Med Monitor, since 7 October last year Israel has killed over 40,000 Palestinians in Gaza and wounded more than double that number, overwhelmingly women and children and many of them with life-changing injuries, while Gaza’s health and school systems have been bombed into collapse, often using US- and UK-made weapons and systems. More than a million people have been forcibly displaced and Gaza is in famine because of Israel’s blockade of food and vital supplies. Israel is formally on trial for genocide before the International Court of Justice and ordered to stop its slaughter – and has been found by UN human rights investigators to be committing genocide.

    If you wish to republish this post for non-commercial use, you are welcome to do so – see here for more.

    Exclusive: Graham’s Unite ‘spending €150,000 A DAY’ on lawyers in Ogle abuse case

    Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/03/2024 - 12:05am in

    1.35 million euros flushed on legal team over 9-day case according to union sources – and that’s just the tribunal, with the defamation suit to follow

    Image: S Walker

    Sources within the union say that Sharon Graham’s Unite is spending spending €150,000 a day just on the fees of its legal team to defend the discrimination tribunal case brought against Unite by leading Irish trade unionist Brendan Ogle – a staggering €1,350,000 across the planned nine days of the Workplace Relations Commission hearing in Dublin, not including court and other costs.

    Ogle brought his complaint against his union employers after he was sidelined, following his successful battle against neck cancer, to an office fifty miles away from his Dublin home, despite a promise from Ms Graham’s predecessor Len McCluskey that his job would be kept open for him pending the outcome of his treatment. Cancer qualifies as a protected characteristic under equality legislation in both Ireland and the UK.

    Ogle told the tribunal last week that another senior Unite employee in Ireland called him to a meeting after his return to work and told Ogle that:

    he’d been told by Sharon Graham to draw up a strategic plan for the Republic of Ireland and I was not to be in it.

    The case could, presumably, easily have been settled for no more, and probably considerably less, than €1.35m – but Unite has deployed no fewer than seven lawyers to defend it:

    1 Senior barrister
    1 Junior barrister
    1 Legal Director
    3 Solicitors
    2 Legal Execs

    Ogle, in contrast, has a junior barrister and a solicitor.

    As well as the employment tribunal case, Brendan Ogle is also suing Graham, her ally Tony Woodhouse and Unite for defamation over comments made about him to union members at different events. Unite is employing the same legal firm – one of the world’s most expensive and profitable – in the defamation case, probably at similar or even greater cost.

    One union source told Skwawkbox:

    That’s the entire annual subs at full rate of 5,769 members. Sharon hasn’t published an Annual Report since she became general secretary. That’s unheard of – and for someone who has spent so much time accusing others of malpractice, it’s extraordinary.

    The union’s ‘disgusting’ abuse toward Ogle on his return from cancer treatment triggered widespread outrage among grassroots members, politicians and community groups – anger so serious that an entire sector branch threatened to disaffiliate entirely from Unite, the well-known ‘Right2Water’ campaign said it will no longer work with Unite, Unite’s Community section in Ireland condemned the ‘injustice inflicted’ on him and members picketed general secretary Sharon Graham’s long-delayed visit to Dublin last month.

    Sharon Graham’s tenure at Unite has also been marked by a string of other serious allegations, which neither she nor the union has ever denied – of abuse, cover-up and failure to protect women:

    In addition, she has been exposed behind the union’s decision to ban showings in Unite’s buildings of a film exposing racism, smears, rigging and abuse by the Labour right and has appeared to grow increasingly cosy with red-Tory Labour ‘leader’ Keir Starmer, despite Starmer’s lies, his contempt for democracy, his u-turns on promises to Unite members and his regime’s repeated blocking of Unite-backed parliamentary candidates.

    Unite did not respond to a request for comment.

    Update: more than two hours after the response deadline – and an hour after publication of this article – Unite responded with a generic denial:

    “This story – like the other stories that The Skwawkbox has published as part of its smear campaign – is untrue.”

    The statement, which did not specify whether the amount spent is higher or lower or by how much, went on to smear this site, implying the scrutiny of Ms Graham’s spending and activity was linked to a Birmingham hotel and conference centre project and Ms Graham’s ‘findings’ about it.

    Ms Graham was part of the group of senior Unite figures that approved the Birmingham project. Her close ally Tony Seaman was the ‘project-specific convenor’ on the project, a role that appears to have been created especially to accommodate him. Unite, with Graham as general secretary, subsequently whitewashed racism findings against Mr Seaman, despite agreeing that he had made racist comments.

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    ‘Sharon Graham told him to tell me there was no place for me in the future of Unite’

    Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 29/02/2024 - 8:03am in

    Irish union legend who supported rival in general secretary election tells tribunal he was sidelined on return from cancer battle and never had a positive day at work since he returned – and that he was told that union’s general secretary ‘recognises loyalty’ from those who supported her in election

    Irish union legend Brendan Ogle, his wife Mandy la Combre (in beret) and supporters leaving the Workplace Relations Committee today

    Today saw an explosive – and often fiery – day in Irish union legend Brendan Ogle’s case against Unite at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) in Dublin.

    Ogle, who supported Graham’s rival Howard Beckett for general secretary, and is claiming that the union discriminated against him by sidelining him from his role as senior officer after his return from a battle against life-threatening neck cancer, told the WRC adjudicator that he was ‘reeling’ when he returned and found that his job – which he had been promised would be held for him to return to if he beat the disease – had disappeared and that Unite was trying to move him into a makeweight job that required only three days work a month.

    And in the day’s most explosive testimony, he told the court that he had been called to a meeting with Tom Fitzgerald, another senior Irish Unite figure, only to be told that there was no place for him in the union’s future and that:

    he’d been told by Sharon Graham to draw up a strategic plan for the Republic of Ireland and I was not to be in it.

    Ogle added that the union’s then-assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail had told him that Graham is:

    very loyal to [Irish] regional officers who had supported her but many hadn’t… Sharon operates on the basis of loyalty.

    This comment raised the obvious question of what Ms Graham does with those who did not support her and how this bears on the treatment Ogle said he was subjected to by the union management.

    Unite’s barrister Mark Harty – whose wife Karyn is part of the team from Dentons, one of the world’s most expensive law firms, hired by Graham to represent Unite in this tribunal and in Ogle’s defamation lawsuit against her, Unite and her ally Tony Woodhouse – insisted that Fitzgerald, who still works for the union, would testify he had not said what Ogle reported. However, the authenticity of Ogle’s submission of a photo of a whiteboard layout said to have been sketched by Fitzgerald to show how the union would organise after his departure does not appear to be contested by Unite.

    Ogle spoke harrowingly of his fight against cancer and its effects on him and went on to say that after his return – expecting to come back to a job held open for him on the promise of Graham’s predecessor Len McCluskey – that he had not had a single positive day at work. He also described how he applied for a regional secretary job as a means of resolving the issue, only to find on his arrival for interview in London that the interview panel was being chaired by Woodhouse, one of the figures who he says defamed him during a talk at Unite’s biennial Irish conference.

    Barrister Harty’s aggressive approach and frequent interruptions of Ogle’s attempts to answer led to numerous confrontations with Ogle’s legal team and a fiery sidebar meeting in a separate room marked by shouting and a walk-out by Ogle’s lawyer saying she would not be talked to in that way. Harty had tried to question Ogle about claims that do not form part of the current case and, when challenged about relevance, had insisted that these questions were ‘central’ to Unite’s case. The dispute led to the sidebar meeting – and on the return of the lawyers and adjudicator, he told Ogle,

    Mr Ogle, we’re just going to move on

    before asking questions on another topic.

    Harty also at one point – appearing to think this was some kind of trump card – demanded to know why Ogle had not told his wife Mandy la Combre to remove social media posts criticising Unite’s treatment of him. The exchange prompted one observer later to observe,

    He was basically asking him, ‘Why didn’t you control your wife?’

    Harty also appeared to imply that Unite was doing Ogle a favour by moving him to a less senior role in Dundalk after an occupational health report said Ogle was fit to return to his ‘senior officer’ role, because Ogle’s doctor had warned stress might be bad for his health. Ogle responded that the occupational health report was specific to him working in Dublin. Ogle lives in Dublin, but travelling to work in Dundalk involves a daily 100-mile round-trip.

    Ogle also told the court that Unite Ireland’s lawyer had told him that the Dundalk role of ‘education and legal’ involved only a day or two’s work – and added that the education part of the role needed only a day’s work because union education in Ireland is not funded by employers in the way it is in the UK, leaving him effectively sent fifty miles away for just three days’ work a month. Unite’s barrister tried to have this evidence ruled out as hearsay.

    Ogle told the tribunal that he had consistently refused to sign any agreement sidelining him to Dundalk, but that the union ‘had acted as if I had signed it’.

    The day also featured a heated argument about whether Graham will be subpoena’d to testify in the case, with Ogle’s lawyers insisting that she must be legally required to attend if Unite’s legal team does not call her as a witness. Harty insisted furiously and bizarrely that she is not relevant to the case and may not be ‘amenable’ to subpoena, as if such a legal summons is a matter of whether one feels like being summoned.

    Sharon Graham has been heavily criticised among union members and activists in the union – and by more than one Irish politician – for Unite’s treatment of Ogle, one of and perhaps the highest-profile and effective union figures in Ireland. The situation caused such outrage that union members picketed Graham’s long-delayed visit to Dublin, Unite’s Community section condemned it as ‘disgusting’ and a whole sector branch threatened to disaffiliate.

    Ogle’s testimony and cross-examination continue tomorrow.

    Skwawkbox is in Dublin to cover Ogle vs Unite. If you would like to help cover the costs of the coverage, see options below.

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    McCluskey: looking after Ogle after cancer was ‘Unite culture when I was general sec’

    Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 28/02/2024 - 1:25am in

    Former Unite head says he felt uncomfortable testifying against his old union and didn’t want to be critical of successor Sharon Graham – but testimony to employment tribunal in discrimination case was still explosive

    Len McCluskey did not want to be photographed as he left the WRC in Dublin

    Long-time former Unite general secretary Len McCluskey testified to the Irish Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) in Dublin today in union legend Brendan Ogle’s discrimination case against the union now run by Sharon Graham. Despite McCluskey’s obvious discomfort having to testify against his old union and his expressed determination not to speak critically of his successor, his testimony was infused with explosive criticism nonetheless. McCluskey was not thrown off course by hostile questioning from the union’s expensive legal team from Dentons, the world’s largest law firm, which has been engaged by Graham and Unite for both the tribunal and Ogle’s separate defamation claim. The adjudicator in the case is former war-crimes prosecutor Elizabeth Spelman.

    Unite’s lawyers tried to portray McCluskey’s insistence – that Unite was always going to keep Ogle on full pay if he was able to return to work from treatment for life-threatening cancer, regardless of the duties he was able to carry out – as somehow outlandish. In a bristly cross-examination, McCluskey told the tribunal he was astonished that anyone would contend that it was bizarre not to want someone to be penalised for being ill and that such a matter of basic decency was part of the ‘union’s culture when I was general secretary’.

    Sharon Graham has been heavily criticised among union members and activists in the union – and by more than one Irish politician – for Unite’s treatment of Brendan Ogle, one of and perhaps the highest-profile and effective union figures in Ireland. Ogle, who backed Howard Beckett rather than Graham during the last Unite general secretary election, returned from successful cancer treatment expecting to take up his old duties, but was ‘sidelined’ to a lesser position in Dundalk, over fifty miles from his Dublin base. The situation caused such outrage that union members picketed Graham’s long-delayed visit to Dublin, Unite’s Community section condemned it as ‘disgusting’ and a whole sector branch threatened to disaffiliate.

    Unite’s lawyers claimed the union’s policy was to ‘red-ring’ the salaries of ill employees for two years only, but McCluskey said that this had not been Unite’s practice when he was in charge. The union’s legal team also tried to claim that Ogle’s position had been created specifically for him, presumably implying that this was some kind of ‘grace and favour’ position, but McCluskey angrily rejected this, pointing to the union’s changes in Ireland during its disaffiliation from the Irish Labour party over the party’s support for austerity, the organisational changes this necessitated, and the extensive approval of Unite’s executive for the need for such a position and for Ogle’s appointment as the most suitable candidate by a distance.

    McCluskey told Skwawkbox that he felt very uneasy testifying against the union he and his team had built, but had been forced to do so because Unite had included claims about him in its submissions to the tribunal in the case.

    Ogle’s testimony began this afternoon but is expected to continue into tomorrow.

    If you wish to republish this post for non-commercial use, you are welcome to do so – see here for more.

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