“Until I became an active MiP rep, I don’t think I necessarily had a voice across the organisation, and I’ve found this step up really powerful,” says Tarlochan Boparai, a senior programme manager working in digital for NHS Kent and Medway CCG.
As manager and MiP rep, Tarlochan was actively involved in the merger of eight existing organisations to form one of England’s largest CCGs. “I honestly found it a positive experience, to have an active voice for MiP members, but also for all staff across the board,” he explains. “If people come to me with thoughts, feelings and concerns, I can guide them or advocate for them — as a union rep but also as a colleague who can actively help.”
Giving something back
As a member for several years, Tarlochan says he’d found the MiP national officers “very responsive” and “wanted to give something back and be part of the bigger picture. But I didn’t necessarily feel qualified to support people, so when I saw the call for people to train as MiP link members, I thought it was an opportune time to skill up.”
After completing link member training last October, Tarlochan took the more advanced reps’ course a few weeks later. “The training was robust and solid,” he says, “and we had much the same cohort of people on both courses, so we’ve built up a really powerful support network — and I’ve made a couple of really good friends.” The newly-trained reps keep in touch via a What’s App group. “I’ve found it a really good space to bounce off colleagues who have different jobs but are all representing MiP as reps or link members,” he explains.
“A lot of things were new to me, and that can be daunting,” Tarlochan admits. “But I always knew I had a back-up: Zohra, our national officer in the South East, is fantastic — if I need help, I drop her a line and we talk things through. Having that dialogue with your national officer is really important.”
Since starting work as a rep in January 2020, Tarlochan has supported colleagues with issues arising from organisational change at the CCG, with grievances such as bullying and harassment, and with general advice on their personal circumstances.
“I think it’s really important to try to stop things escalating unnecessarily,” he says. “Sometimes, I know something is going to escalate up in a few weeks, and I have a conversation with the organisation to see if there’s something we can do proactively to head it off. You need to develop mutual trust with the employer so you can manage challenges as they’re raised by members.”
Tarlochan also chairs the CCG’s BAME Staff Network, which he worked with the CCG to set up during the national Covid lockdown with encouragement from Zohra. “It was evident that a lot was happening across the world and the CCG, as a system leader, needed to do something for BAME staff’,” he explains. “I think my work as a rep meant they saw me as someone who could support the organisation and chaperone the establishment of the network.”
Around 40 of the CCG’s 70 BAME staff attended the network’s first meeting — “a really good turnout”, Tarlochan says. “We’ve established a good, steady cohort of active members and it’s been a really positive way to bring together views from the legacy organisations. It’s complemented the skills and experience I’ve acquired as an MiP rep, and we’ve had colleagues join MiP because of the support I’ve given them through the network.”
Visibility and empowerment
Tarlochan feels he is more visible as an MiP rep, and has worked hard to demonstrate the value of partnership working with the trade unions. “I have a regular one-to-ones with our Accountable Officer. We have an open conversation about BAME network matters, MiP and organisational matters. I take a very pragmatic approach and hope the organisation will continue to support this approach.”
Tarlochan has also had strong support from his line manager. “I’m really grateful that he’s given me the time and space to grow as a rep, and enabled me to support the organisation,” he says.
Being a union rep and leading the BAME network has given him the skills and experience “to be able to catapult into other roles or lead things in an authentic but safe way,” Tarlochan adds. “I look at my day job in a different way now, and it’s given me empowerment. I’ve really enjoyed it.”