History of the BVU
Concerned by the prevalence of high levels of stress, anxiety, mental ill health and suicides amongst UK veterinarians and realising that the existing veterinary organisations lacked the purpose and will to address root causes of these issues, Dr Shams Mir MRVCS, Lancashire based veterinary surgeon, called for setting up of a trade union for the profession in a letter to Veterinary Times published on 2 June 2008. Shams later published his vision for the union in a trilogy of articles in this periodical in its 2nd February, 13th April and 18th May issues of 2009.
Whilst some of the veterinary organisations at the time refuted the need for a trade union in the profession, Shams kept on receiving messages of support from vets and vet nurses across the country with some sending along harrowing tales of mistreatment by their employers. Excerpts from these stories were published in several issues of the monthly periodical Veterinary Practice.
North wales based veterinary surgeon Dr Jan van Dijk MRCVS was the first colleague to offer practical support to Shams and the two met to discuss the next steps in Liverpool on Wednesday 9 July 2008. Soon thereafter Warrington-based vet Dr Catherine (Kate) Williams MRCVS and London based senior vet Dr David Cuffe MRCVS offered their practical support. Later on, Cheshire based vet Dr Bill Manton MRCVS extended his hand of cooperation. Cardiff base vet Dr Greg Dixon MRCVS also joined and kept supporting the group.
A selection of a dozen vets, who had shown pronounced interest in the idea of a union for the profession, were invited to a meeting at University of Liverpool in Leahurst on 7th September 2008 but only Jan and Shams turned up at the meeting! It was nevertheless decided that the campaign to create a union should continue and in the first instance all out efforts should be made to win the argument for a union for the profession.
A year on, a decisive meeting was held on Sunday 28 June 2009 at Holiday Inn Birmingham to discuss the way forward. Besides Shams, the meeting was attended by Jan, Kate, David and Dr Jill Hubbard MRCVS. The meeting concluded with the decision that practical steps be taken towards the formation of a union for the profession. It was decided to set up a Steering Group to lead the efforts. Soon thereafter, the Steering Group consisting of five members with Shams as the Convenor and Jan as General Secretary was formed.
The first meeting of the Steering Group was held at Hotel Thistle Haydock in St Helens, on 23rd August 2009. Besides deliberating on a number of organisational matters, it was decided that in the run up to the setting up of the proposed union, supporters of the idea of a union in the profession will coordinate and function under a charitable structure Vet4BVU. It was also decided that Veterinary Nurses be included in the proposed union and that they should be represented in the Steering Group. In a subsequent meeting at the same venue, it was decided that other staff working in veterinary workplaces should also be included in the proposed union.
Kate Wallis, Birmingham based RVN and Jane Butler, Brighton based RN & RVN were the first RVNs to join the Steering Group. Jane continued to provide support for many years.
Soon Vets4BU was launched as a Community Group with its own logo and a website with a closed forum for discussions amongst the members of the group. The Vets4BVU made its first formal public appearance in the exhibition at the BSAV Congress 2010 in Birmingham. In anticipation of the formation of the Union, Vets4BVU played an active role in responding to various issues within the profession, including responding to various consultations by the RCVS.
The call for the creation of a union triggered an unprecedented debate in veterinary press on working conditions of veterinary professionals and the need for a union. In Feb 2009, Veterinary Practice reported that it was ‘inundated with responses to the call for a new body to represent veterinary staff’. In an article in August 2009 issue of the same periodical, president of the BVA wrote “You’d have to have been hiding under a rock not to have noticed the debate in these pages and elsewhere about a veterinary union..” The debate continued to rage for over three years during which over a hundred recorded letters, reports and articles dealing with the subject of a union for the profession appeared in veterinary press. Readers of these publications would appreciate that objective of winning the case for a union in the profession was heading in the right direction. Veterinary periodicals in France and Australia also reported about the UK campaign to create a veterinary union.
In early 2010 practical considerations and steps to set up a union for the profession were already in progress. Setting up of a stand-alone veterinary union was ruled out as it would be too expensive to establish, for our profession being very small in size, and even with best resources it would struggle to provide services to members spread thinly across the country. After having consulted several UK trade unions, Unite the Union was chosen for serious consideration based on the initial contacts having proved quite positive.
Subsequent to preliminary ground work through Shams’ two friends and senior activists of Unite, Mr Harold Heyes & Mr Eddie Roberts, and a report on veterinary profession and Vets4BVU prepared by Eddie on the request of Mr Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite, the process of our engagement with Unite started.
The first meeting between the representatives of the Vets4BVU Steering Group (David, Jan, Kate & Shams) and Unite officers (Mrs Carol English & Mrs Leona Sanders) took place at the Unite Head Office at Holborn in London on Wednesday 3rd November 2010. The meeting concluded with Unite confirming to support creation of a trade union for the profession under the auspices of Unite. This was followed by multiple further meetings and negotiations with Unite.
After about three years of hard work, our profession’s own trade union, the British Veterinary Union in Unite (BVU), was finally launched on 18 July 2011. A new website for the union was launched on the same day.
Over the three years, from putting forward the idea of a union for the profession to actual launching of the BVU, Shams exchanged thousands of emails with colleagues who worked with him, interested vets and nurses across the country, the media and the organisations he dealt with in this regard.
Although Shams served as the torch bearer for the campaign, he acknowledges with profound gratitude that creation of the BVU could not have been accomplished without the tireless support and sacrifices made by a number of vet and vet nurse colleagues, of whom only a few have been mentioned here.
Shams is intending to compile and publish a detailed account of the campaign leading to formation of the BVU and its subsequent development in due course.