TOWN hall bosses have launched an investigation into the “intimidating” actions of trade union members after they distributed leaflets in Bolton Market during a public sector strike.
An email leaked to The Bolton News has revealed that Bolton Council is carrying out a full investigation into the incident, which saw a group of strikers enter the market and hand out the leaflets urging shoppers to boycott businesses.
It is understood that three union representatives, including two high-ranking Unison members, have been suspended from their posts in the council during the probe.
Thousands of public sector workers and members of Unison, GMB and Unite unions went on strike in Bolton on Thursday, July 10, as part of a national pay dispute.
A group of 60 — who identified themselves as Unison members — sparked controversy when they picketed the market as part of their protests, claiming the complex was unsafe without health and safety officers, fire wardens and cleaners on site.
Leaflets handed to passers-by urged them to “support our fight by withdrawing your business from Bolton Market” and lambasted market traders for refusing to support their fellow workers in their fight.
The stunt was initially dismissed by a Union spokesman as a “light hearted and spontaneous protest”.
But in the leaked email, sent by deputy chief executive of Bolton Council Margaret Asquith last week, it was revealed there is now a high-level investigation into the incident.
She wrote: “The council has received a number of complaints concerning the action which the trade unions took at Bolton Market on the recent strike day.
“I am writing to advise you that, in response, a full investigation is being undertaken.
“The unions are engaging with the investigation which will be resolved as quickly as possible.”
Unison, along with GMB and Unite, have announced a second strike on Tuesday, October 14 — another market day.
Ms Asquith said the council would do everything possible to ensure there is no further disruption to the market on future strike days.
Traders have welcomed the investigation.
Businessman Andrew Hacking, who runs market stall Cheapasmokes, said: “It was chaos. They were putting leaflets on the stalls and at one point said they were going to take the alarms down from the doors. There had to be extra security put on the doors.”
In a blog post written on the Unison Bolton website after the strike, branch secretary Bernadette Gallagher defended the protesters’ actions.
She said: “It is in the interests of business in the town to support our struggle.
“Of course industrial action causes disruption, what would be the point of striking if it didn’t?”
A spokesman for Unison North West said: “We regret that an investigation is under way concerning alleged events at the market.
“The union is making its own enquiries into the circumstances described to us and will ensure the interests of our members are protected.”
A Bolton Council spokesman confirmed the incident was being investigated, adding: “We can’t discuss the circumstances of individuals and are unable to discuss this matter further while our enquiries are ongoing.”