An excerpt from an interview with Becky Crocker, Workers' Liberty and RMT activist
When Ada, my daughter, was nearly two, I had a miscarriage. On the day I got back to work, they presented me with a case conference notification letter.
The case conference process is designed for people with long-term health conditions that mean they are unable to do their job. Working in many of the jobs on London Underground requires doing certain things. You’re supposed to evacuate a station in an emergency; to be able to go down the track. So there’s a very small number of people who, for whatever reason, may not be able to do their job anymore. And that’s what that procedure exists for.
I used to be a rep and I told them: “You can’t do this. This is not what this is for”. My manager pulled up my attendance history. In addition to the miscarriage, the list contained things like unpaid leave for domestic responsibilities - which it was my legal right to take. When I took time off to look after Ada when she was sick, I wasn’t even being paid for it!
The fact that I had had a miscarriage didn’t matter to London Underground. There was a company-wide crackdown taking place. Anybody who did not have 96 percent attendance was put through this process, even though everybody knew this was not what it had been designed for. People who had cancer, who were having treatment and were in recovery were still put through this process and made to feel that their job was in the balance.
It’s daft! There’s no economic sense in it. There have been studies done that demonstrate that these attendance policies cost more money to administer than they ever recoup in lost sick pay. But that’s not the point. They very effectively create a sense of vulnerability. They make sure that you know your place.
I had to go to the company doctor, talk about my medical history and make my case that there were no underlying medical reasons. I’d had a miscarriage, I’d just taken a month off work to recover from surgery. I also had a handful of other absences that were all to do with the stage of life I was at. I was a new mum with a kid in nursery who was repeatedly getting sick. I wasn’t sleeping very well because my daughter didn’t sleep very well and I was perpetually run down. Despite all of this, my attendance was still 90%.
Over Christmas I got gastric flu and I spent the entire time in bed thinking, “I’ve lost my job. I’ve lost my job”. When I got back to work they called me into the office and my manager handed me a letter. I thought it was going to be an invitation to attend a Company Disciplinary Interview so they could try to sack me.
Instead, the letter told me that the case conference had been dropped. The Piccadilly line drivers had gone on strike over Christmas against the abuse of the attendance policy, and the letter read: “I’ve been instructed by Employee Relations to abide by London Underground’s attendance policy.”
And so there you have it. It was an admission that they should never have been doing any of it. It was totally outside of company policy. I still have that letter.
I will never forgive London Underground for subjecting me to months of stress and fear for my job at the same time as I was dealing with the grief of losing a pregnancy. Things got so bad for my mental health around that time that I got counselling on the NHS. I told the counsellor, ”I feel like I’m being punished for having a miscarriage”. The counsellor replied: ”That’s because you are!”