Union baron bringing network to its knees faces sex harassment probe

Rail union baron bringing network to its knees faces sex harassment probe led by Helena Kennedy KC after women complained of unwanted touching and kiss demands

  • Manuel Cortes, 55, head of the TSSA, has been accused of sexual harassment 
  • Former colleagues have made claims of touching and demands for kisses 
  • Mr Cortes denies the allegations against him and apologised for past behaviour 
  • The TSSA was at the forefront of mass rail strikes affecting millions this summer 

A Union baron who helped grind Britain’s railways to a halt is facing an independent inquiry over sexual harassment and bullying claims. 

Manuel Cortes, 55, head of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA), was a leading figure in organising rail strikes this summer during months of disruption. 

He faces accusations of unwanted touching and demanding women he worked with kissed him.

Following advice from the TUC over the allegations, Helena Kennedy KC interviewed past and present union officials about Mr Cortes. 

The harassment claims first emerged in spring when a colleague, Claire Laycock, accused Mr Cortes of making unwanted advances towards her in a pub after a Christmas party in 2018.

At least six others have also made claims of sexual harassment or bullying. 

Manuel Cortes has denied all allegations and apologised to anyone who may have been harmed by his behaviour

Mr Cortes has been the general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) since 201

Claire Laycock shared a video of herself on social media accusing the trade union boss of asking to kiss her and go outside with him at a pub in 2018

Mr Cortes has denied all the allegations and apologised to anyone who may have been harmed by his behaviour.

Ms Laycock shared a video of herself on social media making a series of damaging allegations against the trade union boss.

She claimed he asked to kiss her before demanding the two go outside together.

The TSSA, which Mr Cortes has led since 2011, used a non-disclosure agreement to stop Ms Laycock from speaking about the allegations. 

The union also made its own inquiry into the harassment claims, rejecting all of them. 

The Guardian reported that another woman, Maggie Hayes, heard and saw Mr Cortes acting inappropriately at the pub in 2018. 

She claimed Mr Cortes asked ‘Can I kiss you?’ to which Ms Laycock replied ‘No, don’t, you are my boss!’

Ms Hayes, a former TSSA organiser, is bringing claims of sex discrimination, harassment and victimisation against the union to an employment tribunal.

Hannah Plant, a fellow former union organiser, told the TSSA in 2020 that other women had warned her about Mr Cortes’s behaviour.

An independent inquiry into sexual harassment and bullying claims is being led by Helena Kennedy KC 

Ms Plant sent a letter to union officials in a grievance procedure. She said: ‘I was warned by a colleague to keep my distance. 

‘This echoed warnings I’d had from outside of the organisation about the general secretary’s behaviour at social events, and from a number of colleagues when I first joined who told me not to be on my own with him.’

The TSSA announced the independent inquiry into sexual harassment was being launched yesterday, with a report expected to be published before Christmas.

The union said: ‘An independent inquiry into allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying within TSSA, relating to TSSA officials and others employed by the union launched publicly today (Tuesday 21 September).

‘The inquiry is entirely independent of TSSA. It is being led by Helena Kennedy KC, a human rights barrister and Labour Peer.

‘TSSA is a full and willing participant in the inquiry.’

The rail union was at the forefront of strikes which caused travel disruption for millions over the summer as workers demanded higher pay amid the cost of living crisis and rampant inflation.

Along with Mick Lynch’s RMT, the union held massive walkouts in July and August this year as its members, which include station staff, maintenance and management, took part in industrial action. 

The TSSA is set to ballot hundreds of members on even more strikes next week over a dispute at Govia Thameslink Railway, the UK’s largest rail operator.

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