By a civil servant
A Manchester civil servant hit the headlines recently when he took his employer - the Department for Work and Pensions - to an Employment Tribunal, under the Sex Discrimination Act, over whether or not men at his workplace should be forced to wear ties.
The media had some fun with the issue, interviewing city bankers in sharp suits. This, however, is a very serious trade union issue.
Matthew Thompson, who took the action, works in Jobcentre Plus - an agency created by a merger of social security offices and jobcentres. In June 2002 the management banned jeans and trainers and required men to wear a collar and tie.
There is a draconian aspect to a dress code of course, to keep workers in line. Why else would, for instance, casual staff in warehouses be forced to wear a collar and tie under overalls? In the DWP the move has been mirrored by imposed changes of conditions in relation to sick absence (automatic oral warnings are triggered by four days off in six months), new disciplinary procedures and wearing of name badges (at all times rather than only when seeing claimants). The starting pay for admin grades - most of whom have no public facing role, and so why would they need to wear a tie? - is under £10,000.
The leadership of the Public and Commercial Services Union - although they backed Matthew's claim - have not organised a ballot for mass non-cooperation with dress code as instructed by the last Group conference of May 2002. Instead of collective industrial action, members have been forced to rely on individual legal actions against employers and the lottery of employment tribunals.
At the tribunal on 24-25 February the PCS barrister argued that any dress codes which laid down specific dress standards for men and women was discriminatory and therefore unlawful. The judgement was reserved. A decision is expected within four weeks and both sides are likely to appeal.