Unison close to £3 million public sector compensation!

Amid numerous reports of public sector payouts to teachers and council employees across the country, Unison has announced that it won 242 compensation cases for its members living or working in the South West of the UK during 2009. The cases amounted to almost £3 million in personal injury compensation, which was paid out to public sector workers represented by the union. The General Secretary of Unison, Dave Prentis, told The Plymouth Herald newspaper that many of the cases involved back injuries relating to slips and falls in the workplace, which remain a common hazard for many employees across Britain. Mr. Prentis argued that “many of these accidents could and should have been prevented by employers”, adding further that most employers were omitting the “necessary steps to safeguard their staff”.

The news follows Unison’s disclosure last month that it had helped to secure more than £28 million in compensation over 3,700 cases across the UK in 2009. The extent to which such figures apply at a regional level can often put matters in greater perspective, as £28 million in personal injury compensation across an entire nation can distort the public view of such claims generally; indeed, in this challenging economy it can often seem as if every Tom, Dick and Harry is out to make a fast buck at somebody else’s expense. When viewed in a local or regional context, however, Unison’s payouts become somewhat less anonymous. Whilst it is easy to criticise Unison’s nationwide claims, when the individual claimant is given the spotlight it is difficult not to feel sympathy. As Mr. Prentis stressed, many claimants and their families had endured a “huge amount of pain and suffering” having suffered personal injuries in the workplace.

Crucially, it is important for people to note that the £28 million in compensation won by Unison was spread across the UK, with, for example, Unison members in Northern Ireland having received just £340,000 in personal injury compensation. It is also worth highlighting that 2009 was not Unison’s biggest year for compensation claims, as in 2006 it secured more than £33 million for some 4,440 members. What is worthy of public scrutiny is the individual merits of each case; although, the facts of any particular case are rarely exposed in their entirety. Nevertheless, members of the public can very often gain a new sense of perspective by looking at some of the cases handled by Unison and specialist personal injury solicitors, as these demonstrate the level of suffering involved and the circumstances in which incidents occur.

One such incident in 2009 involved Alan Thomas, a school caretaker and Unison member who worked in South Kirby near Pontefract. The 43-year-old caretaker suffered a painful and debilitating hernia injury after lifting a room divider at work in order to clean a classroom floor. Had Mr. Thomas received help lifting the heavy room divider from a colleague, it is highly likely that the injury, which required major corrective surgery and forced the victim out of work for two months, would not have occurred. Mr. Thomas was awarded £3,471 in compensation after receiving help from Unison and representation from personal injury solicitors, which demonstrates how important it is to follow up personal injuries in the workplace with legal assistance. In fact, compensation can be awarded even in the most improbable of circumstances, as Unison member Lois Matcham discovered in 2007 when she slipped on rain-soaked pigeon excrement under a railway bridge in Wandsworth, which resulted in a broken arm and £20,000 in damages.

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