Former union official denies pressuring Brendan Ogle to move to different job after cancer treatment

Jackie Pollock told the Workplace Relations Commission that appointing Ogle ‘the senior officer’ in the Republic of Ireland in 2018 ‘created disharmony within the officer corps’ of the union

Trade unionist Brendan Ogle’s former boss has told the Workplace Relations Commission that appointing him “the senior officer” in the Republic of Ireland in 2018 “created disharmony within the officer corps” of the union.

The witness added that the ex-general secretary of Unite – a close ally of ousted British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – said it would be best if Mr Ogle “watch himself and keep his head down” when the union’s leadership changed.

Jackie Pollock, the now-retired regional secretary for Ireland, told the Workplace Relations Commission that a move by the union’s former leader Len McCluskey to put Mr Ogle in a senior post in charge of political campaigning in the Republic led to a collective grievance by union officers who argued it was “splitting Ireland”.

“It created disharmony within the officer corps and some people in the Irish executive,” Mr Pollock said of the post, which he had described in a directive at the time as “the senior officer” in the Republic, the tribunal heard.


He has denied putting “pressure” on Mr Ogle to move to a different job when he returned to work after cancer treatment.

Mr Pollock said that following the election of Sharon Graham as the union’s general secretary in 2021, her predecessor, Mr McCluskey, called him “out of the blue” and referred to “advising [Mr Ogle] that he should seek an alternative role” in Dundalk as a regional officer.

Mr Ogle was out sick from work at the time, having been sent for treatment for a “very aggressive cancer”, the tribunal was told.

The trade unionist has accused his employer of disability discrimination in a complaint under the Employment Equality Act, alleging a failure to provide reasonable accommodation, victimisation and harassment following his return to work.

The tribunal has heard Mr Ogle asked Mr McCluskey to inquire about an appointment to a regional officer position with the union based in Dundalk while he was out sick, at a point in his recovery when he was uncertain he would be able to resume his previous duties or even survive the illness.

His position is that he turned down the move in December 2021 because he was not satisfied that his pay and seniority would be retained.

Mr Pollock said that when the post was first raised with him by Mr McCluskey: “I took it from Len: ‘There’s a new general secretary and he [Mr Ogle] should watch himself and keep his head down’.”

Mr Pollock said he thought that when Mr Ogle returned to work, he would be going to the regional officer job in Dundalk rather than his post in Dublin as a senior officer and “keeping his options open”.

“At that time, the only argument was on the money and safeguarding the wages,” Mr Pollock said.

The witness said that Mr Ogle made no specific complaint about his role being “taken away” following his return to work. He said he was aware, informally, that there were “issues” between Mr Ogle and another senior union official in the Dublin office, Tom Fitzgerald, about “defining who was doing what”.

He said he could not “put a specific date” on when he became aware, but that his approach was to tell the men: “The two of you resolve the issue.”

“Mr Ogle had told me he was a great friend of Mr Fitzgerald ... and they could work it out,” Mr Pollock said.

Mr Ogle gave evidence earlier this year that that Mr Fitzgerald told him on 22 August 2022 that the new union general secretary, Ms Graham, wanted a new strategy for Ireland drawn up – and that she had made a “directive” that Mr Ogle was not to be included in it.

Unite’s lawyers have said Mr Fitzgerald will deny Mr Ogle’s account of the meeting when he testifies to the WRC on Tuesday.

Under cross-examination, Mr Pollock accepted that he was the author of an email dated 9 December 2021 referring to the dispute over terms and conditions for the Dundalk post and a text message from Mr Ogle the night before.

Mr Ogle’s barrister, Mary-Paula Guinness, asked Mr Pollock why he had repeatedly asked Mr Ogle about the Dundalk job at a 22 July 2022 return-to-work meeting given that he had known her client’s position “since December”.

“This was the first opportunity – the return-to-work interview is to clear everything up,” he said.

Ms Guinness put it to him that after Mr Ogle had confirmed that he was “not contemplating the role at all”, Mr Pollock had asked him twice more during that meeting. Counsel asked why this was the case.

“I’ve no idea,” Mr Pollock said.

“Were you under pressure to get him to move to Dundalk?” Ms Guinness asked.

“Absolutely not, this was a request from Brendan and [Mr McCluskey]. It wasn’t my request,” he said.

When Ms Guinness put it to him that there was “a lot of pressure being put on Mr Ogle” Mr Pollock replied: “There’s no pressure in that interview.”

Earlier, Mr Ogle’s wife, Mandy La Combre, told the tribunal that she made a Facebook post critical of the union on 11 September 2022 in a bid to head off any “trolling” from council water workers who she claims were upset Mr Ogle was “silent” on an industrial agreement they opposed.

She told the commission: “When he returned, I thought everything was going to be okay, and it wasn’t,” she said.

Her husband had told her he was “not being included in this” and “taken out of that”, Ms La Combre said, adding: “you’d expect better” of a trade union job.

She said there was much public comment being made on social media the weekend she made the post following a deal struck on a transfer of undertakings – with some criticism that workers had not been balloted on the measures.

“People were actually saying: ‘Where’s Ogle?’, ‘Ogle’s gone quiet,’ ‘Where’s Ogle now?’” Ms La Combre said.

She said she feared a repeat of the “trolling” she said had occurred around the time of the occupation of Apollo House by housing activists some years earlier and that she decided she wanted to “put it to bed”.

In the post, which was submitted to the tribunal in evidence, Ms La Combre wrote: “What I have sadly come to learn is that [Unite] don’t appear to be as happy as I am that he recovered.”

Ms La Combre then referred to an alleged attempt to move her husband to a reduced role in Dundalk and a claim that he had been “frozen out of staff and activist meetings and key communications on major issues”.

The WRC heard that during a speech to a trade union conference in Malahide, Co Dublin later that month, the trade union’s former chairman, Tony Woodhouse, referred to “the lies that were being told” about Unite on social media, and stated: “Officers returning from sick leave are always treated in the most perfect manner.”

The tribunal heard Mr Ogle subsequently issued legal proceedings against Mr Woodhouse over the speech, telling the WRC earlier this year the ex-chairman “targeted – and following advice I can state defamed me – at the biennial conference”.

The union’s position, put to Mr Ogle during cross-examination, was that the “differences” between the parties stemmed from coverage of his wife’s Facebook post in the ‘Irish Examiner’.

Mark Harty, acting for Unite, put it to Ms La Combre that her Facebook post had amounted to a “hand grenade” and asked her whether she thought it had been “ill-advised” in the context of a process of “working out” matters around her husband’s return to work.

“I don’t believe there was any process of trying to work [things] out” she replied.

Asked how the Irish Examiner journalist, Mick Clifford, had her contact details, she said: “I’m a senior officer in another union. All my contact details are public.”

It was also confirmed that Mr Ogle’s lawyers have failed in an attempt to have the Unite general secretary Sharon Graham summoned as a witness in the case – adjudicating officer Elizabeth Spelman ruling that Ms Graham did not have information relevant to her inquiry.

The case has been adjourned for the day.