Former Ucatt leader is suspended on full pay as union turmoil deepens

The former leader of troubled union Ucatt, Alan Ritchie, has been suspended amid an investigation concerning expenses.

Ritchie (pictured) - who was forced to resign as general secretary of the union in April after watchdogs declared his 2009 leadership election win void - was suspended last month from his current role working out of the union’s Glasgow office.

Despite the investigation, Ritchie is understood to be standing in the rerun of the union’s election to be held this autumn against 2009 leadership rival Mick Dooley, London regional secretary Jerry Swain and Yorkshire regional secretary Steve Murphy.

Interim union chief George Guy confirmed Ritchie was suspended on “non-disciplinary action” on full pay, pending the result of an internal investigation.

The news emerged after the union disclosed expenses records to Ucatt member and president of its Brixton branch, Noel Kelly, following his 10-month campaign for access to the records. This culminated in a hearing held by unions watchdog the Certification Office (CO) last week.

Ucatt disclosed its senior staff expenses records to Kelly before the hearing last Thursday, on the condition he kept the material private and confidential. Kelly then withdrew his complaint.

Kelly said: “If it hadn’t been for the intervention (of the CO) I’d still be on a paper chase. I’ve established a precedent that any member of the union is entitled to see these files.”

Kelly claims he first tried to get access to the expenses records on the 10 January this year.

The union argued in its submission to the CO that it had given Kelly opportunities to see its records - a claim Kelly denies.

It is not known if there is a connection between Kelly’s attempts to access the union’s expenses and the union’s expenses probe.

Guy appealed for “patience” and said detail of the investigation into expenses would be disclosed once it was completed.

Ucatt claims to have 130,000 members and its 2009 leadership result was declared void after the CO found it sent ballot papers to less than half of these - only 56,867 members.
Ritchie was unavailable for comment.

Union Unite has called a strike ballot of up to 6,000 electrical workers over the ongoing dispute about proposed changes to pay and conditions.

A union spokesperson said the ballot - by far the largest in construction for five years - will be held “within a few weeks”.

The action is being taken after eight of the industry’s largest electrical contractors - including Balfour Beatty and NG Bailey - agreed to ditch a 40-year-old wage agreement between employers and workers in favour of drawing up a new agreement.

Unite said the ballot will initially be targeted at Balfour Beatty workers, as it is seen as the “ring-leader” behind the proposed wages changes.

Blane Judd, chief executive of the Heating and Ventilating Contractors’ Association - which represents the eight contractors - said it was “deeply disappointed by Unite’s premature and unjustified decision”.