Derby City Council

Teaching Assistant Crisis: Did Banwait mislead the Council over UNISON?

6X4A8232aDuring the Full Council meeting on November 25th 2015, Cllr Banwait was asked a question from a member of the public and his response was punctuated by an attack on UNISON, one of the 3 unions in the Equal Pay review negotiations. This was met with disgust, and muted objections from the people in the Public Gallery.

Cllr Banwait, very bullishly, claimed that he had the emails and documents to prove his accusation that UNISON had supported the negotiations up until the “11th hour”, and then walked away. Given the position he took and the way he was trying to influence opinion I decided to investigate, to see if his statements could be substantiated, and whether UNISON had reneged on previous commitments. I sent in a Freedom of Information request.

VIDEO OF SPEECH

The following video contains Cllr Banwait’s speech .

Brief summary of key parts / transcript:

Banwait explained that the offer on the table was felt to be acceptable by GMB and UNITE and that it was put to ballot of Council workers. He then went on to explain:

57 secs:

“They (GMB and UNITE)  also felt that it was acceptable to run a ballot with the schools so that meant that they agreed with the offer on the table.

UNISON, at the 11th hour I may add and, up to a certain point, and I have evidence to show until very recently, UNISON were sending communications out celebrating the negotiation process – actually saying that they felt that they were being listened to, and heard for the first time for a long time. I have got emails and various communications….so sadly when a party walks away from a collective agreement, all bets are off”

He then proceeded to draw a comparison with Private sector negotiations on how they could have behaved with a more dramatic cost focus, and would:

1min 44 secs
“….take the offer down to a bare minimum to save money in the interests of the organisation – but we haven’t done that, may I add. As Labour administration, we are at a deliberate disadvantage as I’ve been very honest with our Union comrades – we want our comrades in the Union to get the best possible deal – we are trying to work on behalf of the members of the public that we represent”

He then went onto to commend the work of the Unions, but:

2mins 33 sec
“…sadly, for whatever reason, UNISON felt at the 11th hour, that wasn’t the case”

He then tried to show a pattern forming over UNISON’s behaviour with other Council negotiations.

3mins 35 secs
“…so UNISON do have form for this”

INVESTIGATION

It would appear that the lead up to the 11th hour was on the 22nd July 2015. A letter was sent by Andy Freeman, Regional Organiser of UNISON East Midlands to Cllrs Russell and Banwait. In his opening paragraph he stated:

“Firstly, from UNISON’s point of view I would like to express the fact that for the first time for a very long time I have genuinely felt that we were actually in a negotiation rather than just being talked at, and no doubt this change is in a large part down to the current Administration at the City Council.”

This reads as a polite introduction to a long document and Cllr Banwait has quoted this as the evidence that, at this point, UNISON were somehow compliant with the negotiations, and “celebrating” the process.This is a naive interpertation. The letter continues:

“However, as you are aware there are still some points of difference on the changes to terms and conditions which I will outline below.”

…and notable extracts are:

“However we do feel that the current pay protection policy be maintained for the implementation Single Status. As was said at the meeting on 9th July, School Staff currently receive 3 years protection and as such we feel that the trade unions have already offered a compromise of 2 years and this is as far as we can go.”

“Our school members remain extremely concerned that many schools may not choose to offer staff the opportunity to increase their hours (say from 32.5 hours to 37 hours) as proposed.”

…and the critical paragraph is:

“I would envisage staff being in a position to make decisions about this once they know what new grade/salary they are on and therefore these decisions cannot realistically be taken in the absence of that information.”

UNISON had explained to the Council at least as far back as the 2nd July, that detailed information was required to allow the Union’s Equal Pay Unit to evaluate the proposal and give advice back to the local team and membership.

By early August, some indicative information was provided to the Union, which highlighted for the first time the extent of the potential pay cuts, particularly on schools staff. It was also recognised that this would be made worse by the diluted pay protection policy, and the unfavourable assimilation proposals which would not mitigate any of the losses.

The conclusion that UNISON expressed to the Council, in early August, as the substance of the implementation was unveiled, was unequivocal and direct.

“In every other local authority I have been involved in with single status implementation, they have assimilated school staff to a point within their new grade which either erodes the loss of pay completely or mitigates the loss should there not be the scp (spinal column points) to be assimilated to in their new grade.  If implemented as is, this could mean thousands of staff in schools suffering more losses in pay than is necessary given their new gradings. I don’t have to tell you again that this is completely unacceptable.”

So the 11th hour started, when the Council finally provided a minimal glimpse of the magnitude of what they were proposing.

During August, the Union continued to highlight to the Council that they still had not received the data that they had been promised to perform their analysis, as they had previously declared that they needed. It was also made clear that this delay was jeopardising the timely opportunity for a ballot to be held which, in turn, could impact on the implementation date of 1 Jan 2016.

In the Pay and Reward Consultation sessions that took place on 24th August and 1st September, neither of which were attended by Cllr Banwait, UNISON continued to highlight that the data they had previously asked for was still not forthcoming. The meeting of the 1st September, was the occasion at which the final proposal was submitted. The letters were to be issued to the school staff in the week commencing 14th September.

By the 5th October, still the data had not been provided to UNISON. Cllr Banwait asked UNISON what information, specifically, was outstanding; he was advised that such detail had been provided by other Local Authorities to allow a full analysis and an informed recommendation to be made. Cllr Banwait, on behalf of the Council, refused to give this information, citing Data Protection issues.

UNISON suggested that a proposal similar to that offered by Derbyshire County Council would be recommended by UNISON, but Derby City Council refused to table this on financial grounds. This is contrary to Cllr Banwait’s position in the video that he was looking for the “best deal for his comrades”

Cllr Banwait asserted in the video clip, that GMB and UNITE were recommending the proposal to their members in school; this was their position on the 1st September. They would also hold just 1 ballot of all members. By October they had decided to have 2 ballots ( schools, and non-schools) and to recommend YES to non-schools, and NO to schools. Their position seemed to have changed once they realised the impact on school staff

As UNISON were not in a position to hold a ballot, as the detail had not been provided by the Council, the other Unions decided that holding their ballot would not be worthwhile.

Shortly after this, the 1st demonstration took place outside the Council House at which point Cllr Banwait told the protestors “I’m on your side”.

CONCLUSION

Cllr Banwaits recollection of the facts seems confused and superficial, with key points being omitted.  Looking at the evidence, objectively, there is nothing to suggest that UNISON either changed their mind or walked away from the negotiations. Their position hardened when the serious consequences of the proposal were finally revealed after the so-called “celebratory” email on the 22nd July.

The Council were dilatory in providing the level of detail which they knew was necessary for UNISON, and arguably any union body, to make a recommendation to its members.

The irony is that GMB and UNITE changed their minds during September from supporting the proposal for all members to proposing a NO for schools staff. Perhaps Cllr Banwait should have turned his gun-barrels on them?

His comparison with the negotiating strategy in private sector organisations is disingenuous as the outcome for the TA’s, in particular, cannot be considered the “best deal for his comrades”

The fatal mistake by the Implementation team was that they declared their hand at the 11th hour and, by so doing, self-scuppered a very flawed proposal and then were oblivious to the fact that a reasonable person might actually find the outcome unacceptable and want to perform a professional due diligence review.

Blaming the failure of the negotiations on UNISON is very questionable and shows a lack of leadership quality.

So was Cllr Banwait misleading the Council Chamber?

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2 replies »

  1. You said above that Cllr Banwait said ” we want our comrades in the Union to get the best possible deal – we are trying to work on behalf of the members of the public that we represent”.
    would it ever be possible to achieve both of these to everybody’s satisfaction? Obviously the more the comrades get paid the more the public will have to contribute.

    I think under the circumstances a compromise should be reached and he should do the best possible for the comrades but taking into account the current financial situation.

    However I agree he should not make false accusations of Unison !!

    • Anne – I don’t think there is a direct link between TA’s being paid more and the public paying more. Many others have proposed pay rises through this process which might be deemed unnecessary on the basis of Equal Pay between genders. This whole process is not about budgetary savings…sadly some in the Council have suggested that this is the narrative when it suits them.

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