Derby City Council

Teaching Assistant Pay Crisis: Banwait’s sinking fast without any ideas!

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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 :

  1. A 37 hr working week
  2. A Pay and grading review ( Job evaluation) “equal pay for work of equal value” ( for all workers below Chief Exec level)
  3. Local terms and conditions ( the same for everyone)
  4. 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:

  1. 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]

  1. 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?

  1. 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

Affordability

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:

    1. 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?
    2. 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?

    1. 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.
    2. Make the principles over the 39 working week year consistent with that of Teachers.
    3. Allow holiday to be taken at any time of the year provided it is agreed with the Head Teacher.
    4. 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.

Conclusion

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!

Postscript

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?

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9 replies »

  1. I feel for the teaching assistants but there are many other jobs that have taken a pay cut under j.e. It’s very difficult to evaluate jobs you know little about but you seem very disgruntled that someone operating a 26tonne truck in areas where many struggle to get their cars, facing abusive public and a string of environmental hazards, only getting 4 weeks holiday a year and struggling to get them in the summer months has been awarded a fair rate of pay. Why is that?

    • Hi Nigel, thanks for your comment. I wouldn’t say I was disgruntled, as such. The drivers have been upgraded for the 2nd time in 2 years and are now more highly graded than a TA, and now being paid more than them, in a process that is designed to ensure that there is gender equivalence. My comment is about comparison – not the absolute rate of pay, itself. I’m not sure I fully buy into the extent of the difficulties of driving a truck on the roads of Derby, and on routes which are the same every week. A TA could present a good case as to the difficulties/variabilities of their job. There are many anomalies with the whole process which result in people’s pay being adjusted down. I am aware that the Refuse collectors /drivers are considered something of a special “political” case given the public outcry if the bins aren’t collected, so I can see why the Council would wish to protect them. This is based on talking to informed people….The opportunity exists for others to write a counter position which I would be very willing to read.

      • I’m not trying to take anything away from ta’s job difficulty, I just cannot see any reason for bringing a completely incomparable job into the argument. As for not buying into the difficulty, try driving one round the back streets of Normanton at school start time, with young children and other vehicles everywhere. I would never judge someone’s job difficulty until I’ve tried doing it.
        We need to campaign the capitalist government about the cuts, especially as Derby gets a poorer deal per head than most cities.

    • Nigel, I hate to say it but you’ve missed a vital point there which is often overlooked by those not involved in this situation. You mentioned that lorry drivers only have an allowance of four weeks holiday. The TA’s are now only allowed four weeks holiday too; however, they are being forced to take their holiday during school holiday periods, the most expensive periods; yet their pay has been significantly reduced. I understand why you would point this out because it is a point that everyone not associated with schools mentions; and this is why they have no sympathy.

      I have personally sent an e-mail to the equal pay review team and their response was one i received in utter disbelief. They had the audacity to suggest that they were “unaware of any changes to holiday allowance” which was complete and utter bollocks due to the fact they had sent letters out to each of the ta’s to tell them so. I’m not a teaching assistant, nor do I work for the council; however, I do know others that are and have had the opportunity to go through the new ts & cs with a fine toothcomb. I have outlined the five laws they are breaking and mentioned the clauses within those laws that they have broken and, where they usually suggest feedback within five working days, I’ve now been waiting five weeks. Just goes to show how ridiculously this situation is being dealt with.

      Regards

  2. The point is that the process requires the comparison of completely incomparable jobs. But it also requires those implementing it to ensure that it makes sense. Different people are suited to different jobs – but the challenge is to compare objective value of the role, not the person doing it.

    This exercise is nothing to do with Cuts – it’s ensuring comparable pay between genders in jobs of equal value. And for those losing 25% of their pay, then needless to say it is a massive issue for them. Central Govt cuts is a completely different topic.

    • I appreciate what you’re saying but if there were no cuts then I am pretty confident many people would have kept their income. One of the major losers during the first farcical round of job evaluation were the bin collection crews. They were bought into line with school lunchtime assistants? They didn’t fight their case by bringing other employees pay into the limelight but by justifying their pay on the merits of their job conditions, they lost. I wasn’t wanting to detract from the plight of the t.a.’s, merely just a bit dissapointed you seemed to highlight it by attacking someone else’s pay. I’m pretty sure we are on the same side and want a fair deal for all employees. Thanks for taking the time to reply.

  3. Nigel – I’m not attacking anyone, apart from the inequity of the implementation of a policy that is supposed to make Pay fairer for all…and not evidently less fair for some. That is the nub of the issue.

    The cuts to the TA pay is on the back Equality legislation. It is not driven by affordability. If the Council had limitless funds then the TA’s would still see a cut….due the very points I’ve made above.

  4. Can some tell me how much a TA is paid,hard to make a judgement without knowing.
    On the refuge Lorry drivers,the fact that half their working day is during the night would make it worthy of a higher pay scale in my mind.

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