Derby City Council’s Equal Pay Review should be about a focussed set of changes to assure gender equality between all employees in similar jobs. It should not be a vehicle to promote local political objectives, facilitate pay increases for Refuse lorry drivers, and the higher paid officers ( predominantly men) to the disadvantage of the Teaching Assistants ( predominantly women).
The Derby City Council Employment Charter proudly pledges:
We are committed to providing fair employment contracts and stability of employment to all employees
One would expect that this would be deeply-rooted in all of their actions.
Single Status Agreement/Equal Pay Review
The obligation that the Council is trying to implement is the national Single Status Agreement. The principle is that by having a standardised pay structure and terms & conditions, then it should mitigate any equal pay claims.
The Agreement covers the implementation of :
- A 37 hr working week
- A Pay and grading review ( Job evaluation) “equal pay for work of equal value” ( for all workers below Chief Exec level)
- Local terms and conditions ( the same for everyone)
- Excludes Teachers, Youth workers, Chief officers and directors
All, very reasonable aspirations. So why has Derby City Council got it so wrong for Teaching Assistants (TA)? Taking each point in turn:
- Currently TA’s have a contract which is for 32.5 hrs per week. The contract contemplates that additional hours will be carried out in the course of the week – that is the nature of working with children; it is especially the case where the children have Special Educational Needs or End-of-life conditions. The contract has been managed as a 52 week annualised arrangement. Most TA’s work in excess of the 32.5 hrs to ensure that the job is completed and that all children are safeguarded. Many will even work in excess of the new standard 37 hrs per week – unrewarded!
In a briefing paper from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers from May 2013 relating to the Derby negotiations:
“It is the council’s view that many staff work more than their current 32 ½ hours and that the extra hours should be recognised in the contract. ATL considers that where members are doing additional hours they should be paid for the time. We recognise that if members remain at 32 ½ hrs they will be disadvantaged through a reduction to a part time wage and reduced pension contributions”
The Council’s position, now, is that TA’s are contracted for only 32.5 hrs per week, will only be paid for those hours, and by virtue of that, are considered part-time. Given this deemed employment status their current basic pay is reduced, proportionately, by ~12%. [32.5 ÷37]
- Grading jobs is not an easy task, and comparing ones which are very dissimilar and rewarding them with the same pay requires diligence, sensitivity and the application of a dispassionate perspective. Sometimes the process may have been conducted perfectly, but the outcome just does not make sense.
When a Teaching Assistant, who is working with children who could have very challenging and erratic needs, whose moods, and responses can change dramatically, and where personal decisions by the TA can impact a child’s life is considered to be of “equal value” to a Refuse Lorry driver then it seems like someone has not sat back and viewed it objectively. To then, re-grade the Lorry Driver to a level higher than a TA, and pay them an additional £2000 pa beggars belief!
The new Pay Scales reward the highest paid, and penalise the lower paid:
For those grades that pay up to £30k per year, then the new scales build in ~£800 pa downward pressure on average salaries.
For those grades that pay over £40k per year, then the new scales increase the opportunity for pay increases of ~£3000 pa, extending to £6000 for the highest grades.
This has been done, apparently, to ensure that the best senior managers can be retained / recruited….but do we also not want the best Teaching Assistants?
- At first glance it seems fair that everyone should have the same Terms and conditions, provided that essentially everyone is doing the same types of jobs in the same types of conditions. However there are notable exceptions:
- Subject to normal agreement with supervision everyone should be able to take holiday at any time during the year. This is not the case with TA’s – the Council have specifically directed that they must be taken outside of term time. So not the same as everyone else!
- The nature of a TA’s role ( as is the case with a Teacher – who are not subject to the Single Status Agreement) is that formal attendance is driven by when children are at school. This is not the case with most Council jobs.
The National Union of Teacher Guidelines on Teacher’s Working (p.11) times states that the maximum number of days a teacher shall be available is 195 days = 39 weeks. Teacher’s pay is based on this 39 week year.
For TA’s, as this 39 weeks is less than the standard 44.5 week year for everyone else, and they are considered part-time, then their pay is pro-rated down by ~12%. [39 ÷44.5] This is not the case for Teachers. Again, not the same as everyone else!
The hours reduction and the working week issue result in the standard pay drop for TA’s of ~25%. – £5000 pa! Inevitably this will lead to TA’s leaving their jobs , being supported by Working Tax credits, etc
This process is about ensuring “equal pay for work of equal value” it is not about cost savings, or force-fitting an answer to suit the budget.
At the same time as this process is being conducted, the Council have implemented their Minimum Earnings Level (MEL)of £7.85/hr which is higher than the National Minimum Wage, currently £6.70/hr – to be increased in April 2016 to £7.20/hr (National Living Wage). There was no urgency for this to be done, will cause a cost penalty to the schools budget, and impact on the differentials with employees just above that level – like TA’s.
This has contributed to the cost pressure in the schools and allows Mr Banwait to publicise to Central Government his aspiration to become a living wage employer – a laudable, but unaffordable objective. Something he can’t blame on Tory cuts!
Paul Robinson, Chief Executive of Derby City Council, was quoted in the Derby Telegraph as saying:
“We are saying they ( the schools) should use whatever available money they have to mitigate, where possible, the impact to individual employees, through either changing hours or the number of weeks they work.”
Is he suggesting that schools should increase term times? The problem created by the Council has been dumped onto the Head Teachers with little room for manoeuvre.
Derbyshire County Council has recognised that the working week for TA’s should be increased to reflect the hours actually worked:
Robinson, told the unions that using the county council model would “not be affordable for certain schools”. He said:
“It would not be prudent of the council to recommend something that puts schools in financial difficulty. It is also important to note that our financial position and our schools’ financial position is fundamentally different to that of Derbyshire and their schools.”
The implication of Robinson’s position is:
- Equality of pay will only be implemented to the extent that it can be afforded. So why implement the local MEL, and increase the salaries of seniors?
- He expects TA’s to work for Zero-pay, for the hours they routinely work above 32.5 hrs per week. Standard Terms and Conditions require all hours to be paid for, above contractual hours.
What should the Council do?
- If the TA is routinely working at least 37 hrs per week then give them a full-time permanent contract at that level consistent with other employees.
- Make the principles over the 39 working week year consistent with that of Teachers.
- Allow holiday to be taken at any time of the year provided it is agreed with the Head Teacher.
- Critically review all situations where individuals, or groups are being given substantial pay increases where no additional value is generated or there is no Equal Pay issue.
If that is not affordable, then the Council need to seriously review the process they have adopted. A Pay review of this nature should result in modest, targeted, “adjustments” not widespread salary shifts.
Is it legal to continue to pay women less than men for an equivalent job simply because it’s not affordable? The Council should not be using financial arguments for failing to implement a fair Equal Pay structure.
Is it ethical that TA’s are “rewarded” with a significantly reduced baseline salary which will impact on their ability to secure a mortgage just because the Council do not want to face up to contracting with an employee for the routine hours that they work? Or does the Council expect them to work for free? The reality is that TA’s will be forced to work, strictly, to their 32.5 hrs per week – not something which sits comfortably with their personal ethos. They would then book their additional hours for which they should be paid – a nonsensical position.
The Council has managed to put Head Teachers in an incredibly difficult situation – they are being squeezed like pips from both sides, trying to manage an almost unsolvable puzzle that was not necessary, and not of their making.
An Equal Pay review that has not employed any more staff, which is now supposedly unaffordable, sounds like it may be flawed, and one that takes a (mainly female)TA from parity with a (male) Refuse lorry driver to one where they are under-valued, and get paid >25% less sounds like an Equal Pay “own-goal” that is nothing short of incompetent.
The Council’s Employment Charter is beginning to read like an empty promise being blown away aimlessly like discarded tumbleweed.
The Council has confused so many issues into one initiative that I doubt that many people, including Mr Banwait, himself, fully remembers what the original objective was, understands how they wandered into this messy swamp, and as he continues to sink into the quick-sand, will be asking, who on earth is going to drag him out!
Due to the failure of collective negotiations the Council are trying to coerce staff into signing individual agreements. These provide for a temporary increase in hours to 37 per week, but conditional on accepting poor terms and conditions. The Council is instructing ( although the “spin” is that they are indicating that it is “preferable”) that these 2 issues are linked, when in fact it should be the preserve of the school Governing body to determine the detail. If these are not signed then the Council may revert to a Dismissal and Re-engagement process to force staff to accept the Terms and Conditions. This will mean that at the beginning of March 2016, staff will receive notice of dismissal letters. Their acceptance of this will, simply be, their return to work after the half-term break in early June. Head Teachers will not know, for certain, how many staff they have on the payroll until that return day.
A quite unacceptable state of affairs!
They are being successful in de-motivating a whole group of people, many of whom are pivotal to another key Council objective – Special Educational Needs children – which the Council is failing on.
Is this really the only strategy that Cllr Banwait has for the TA’s ?
Has he really run out of ideas?