“I will always raise my voice to defend the rights of workers who are in miserable conditions and in court it was clear that it is not a malicious act to join a union and be an activist, so no more fear!.”Bella Ruiz, former care worker, strike leader and UVW member
After two years of battle and four long days in court, United Voices of the World (UVW) member and strike leader Bella Ruiz won her union victimisation claim against Sage Nursing Home, in north London, in mid-May.
The Watford Employment Tribunal agreed with Bella that she had been victimised for challenging her bosses on poverty pay, lack of protective gear (PPE) and appalling working conditions at the height of the pandemic, and that she had been subjected to a union-busting witch-hunt for mobilising her colleagues. From the moment she raised her voice, she had been confronted by a culture of intimidation. She could have buckled under the pressure but she went on fighting for her dignity and the right of every worker to unionise and strike.
“I am extremely happy that I took Sage Nursing Home to the Employment Tribunal. I have come to the conclusion that I want to thank them because in the end due to the abuse they committed against me I was able to discover how powerful and strong I am to assert my rights and my dignity”, an ecstatic Bella told us upon hearing the verdict.
Bella had helped organise a successful strike for better pay and working conditions, She helped to unionise over 30 workers in her workplace, she led a petition for trade union recognition, hosted numerous union meetings and represented her colleagues at speaking events. After they balloted for strike action, under the campaign slogan “Quality care, deserves quality pay”, 75,000 people signed an e-petition; messages of solidarity flooded in from all over the world, the campaign yielded early-day motions in Parliament and won wide coverage in national media. By the end of 2021 care workers, domestic and maintenance staff at Sage won a huge victory and pay rise after a protracted dispute and strike.
But Bella couldn’t enjoy this massive win. She recalls how her working environment went from bad to worse. She says bosses at Sage intimidated her colleagues and turned them against her. She remembers with pain being called ‘subversive’ and ‘malicious’, which had a huge impact on her mental healt and family life. She suffered panic attacks, started to lose her hair and cried non-stop. She had to take sick leave and eventually the pressure was so great she had no choice but to resign.
Bella, however, didn’t give up. She persevered and took her bosses to the Tribunal. Her main ambition was to face them in court, make them confront the truth and accept their actions were wrong. “I felt like I was making a movie, taking my bosses to court – she said – It was an exhausting process but my fight was from love and not hate. I can sleep with a clear conscience with the satisfaction of my duty fulfilled and long live the union!”
Bella wants to motivate others to unionise and fight for their rights. “I will always raise my voice to defend the rights of workers who are in miserable conditions and in court it was clear that it is not a malicious act to join a union and be an activist, so no more fear!” she happily remarks.
She also had words of encouragement to her fellow UVW members and former colleagues: “To my fellow Sage members, I congratulate you on your decision to join UVW, feel protected and never hesitate to raise your voice. “
Simon Bennett, legal caseworker for UVW, who represented Bella in court, said that “this outcome represents a vindication for Bella and a reminder to all that organising a workplace is a legally protected activity which managers are not entitled to object to or interfere with. All of UVW’s members should take heart.”
UVW is now calling on the Sage trustees to issue a full apology to Bella, said Petros Elia, UVW’s secretary general: “We will never hesitate to sue a boss that comes after one of us. What Bella suffered at Sage Nursing home was nothing short of disgraceful. The trustees have finally been held to account for overseeing and allowing such grotesque union busting to take place on their watch of key workers who were merely exercising basic fundamental human rights to strike for a living wage. We now call on the trustees to issue a full apology to Bella, a migrant worker from Colombia who dared to stand up, speak up and fight back
Bell thanked UVW for all the support given to her during the path to justice.
To the bosses we have a clear message:
If you touch one of us, you touch all of us. We will never hesitate to sue you!
20.06.2022 / GOSH