Dear Cllr Banwait
I have seen the response that you have sent to the Teaching Assistants who have written to you complaining about the unresolved pay dispute. Your letter deals with many issues, but fails to answer the question, and hinges on too many half-truths.
It is absolutely correct that Derby City Council must complete an Equal Pay review; the core process for ensuring comparability between different jobs is Job Evaluation. If this is all that you were doing, then you would not have had a damaging dispute. You have chosen to include into the exercise, a review of Terms and Conditions, and the implementation of your own discretionary Minimum Earnings Level (MEL) ( increase minimum pay rate to £1.05 higher than the national living wage). This has created unnecessary cost pressures and uniquely disadvantaged many Schools support staff.
You highlight the change in Terms and Conditions as a major issue – this is one of your making, and is NOT part of Equal Pay. In any case, if you consider Schools Support Staff working patterns, in the way that Teachers are dealt with, on an annualised basis, then you might find that your issue disappears.
You make a suggestion that only 400 out of 1200 UNISON members voted in the recent ballot. Of the 1200, only ~600 are directly affected by the Terms and Conditions changes that you have imposed. This represents a turnout and positive vote of around 65% – a mandate considerably greater than yours in the City which hangs by a whisker. 400+ people took strike action on 14th September which is a positive affirmation of the support.
Currently your negotiating strategy is divisive by trying to offer a lump sum to some of the population of people affected. On the 9th September, to try and head off the strike action, you increased the proposed sum, to the select group, by £1000 ….for 15 minutes.
You will no doubt have very good relations with GMB/UNITE – they represent about 15 kitchen and cleaning staff – none of whom are affected by your proposals.
You state ” It is not possible to arbitrarily overrule the outcome of job evaluation without placing the validity of the entire project in jeopardy”. The good news is that the School Support staff, and UNISON have not asked for that – their issue, fundamentally, is not with Job Evaluation.
The Council’s own Equality Impact Assessment has demonstrated that the change to Terms and Conditions unduly impacts on women. This is discriminatory and can only serve to undermine the Equal Pay objective. The recommendations in the report are clear, this is not an acceptable way to proceed.
You refer in the text to the Government cuts and have been quoted many times before, that UNISON’s negotiating position is ‘unaffordable’. I quote from a Law Society practice note “It is important to note, that ‘affordability’ is not a blanket defence in relation to equal pay”. You should be transparent with the residents of Derby that the lack of affordability comes from a new pay structure which involves many people receiving pay increases ( this is not a pay reward programme) and the discretionary implementation of the local MEL. The implication from your statement is that if there was enough money you would pay them more – which will be an interesting position to defend in court.
Cllr Eldret who, ironically, I understand, is a contractor to UNISON for training on employee relations, has published an Employment Charter. Some of the statements don’t sit comfortably with the Council’s approach to this dispute:
- We are committed to providing fair employment contracts and stability of employment to all employees ( I think many people don’t feel it’s fair, or stable)
- We actively support trade union membership amongst our employees and recognise trade unions for the purposes of employee representation and collective bargaining ( perhaps you should try much harder in having open, transparent , and healthy dialogue with UNISON on this subject)
- We will work to minimise agency workers….(£1.36m in 3 months?)
- We will seek to offer a wide range of employee incentives ( 25% pay cut does not constitute an incentive…..other than to take industrial action!)
The Schools Support staff, and many people within Derby are far more informed than you give them credit for, and the way they are being treated is not consistent with traditional Labour Party values. When Jeremy Corbyn visited the City I was present when he was having an in-depth discussion with Nicole Berrisford of UNISON. It was clear he fully understood what was driving the action and explicitly gave his support to the “workers”, as you would expect.
If you are serious about ending this dispute then the time has come to stop treating School Support staff, and the public as fools. Everyone knows that a 25% pay cut is nothing to do with Equal Pay – it is a ridiculous notion. It is clear that you are using Support Staff as a vehicle for a cost saving so you can engineer pay increases elsewhere and deliver your own MEL objective. You’ve even provisioned for it in the budget – £4m!
This dispute is damaging relationships within the school, the education of children and, in many cases, the care for those most vulnerable with Special Educational Needs. It is clear that this will not end without your creative leadership in looking at new alternative proposals. I am in no doubt that UNISON would support you in exploring those options.
Original letter from Cllr Banwait
As a signatory of the ‘Green Book’ National Agreement, Derby City Council has been required since 1997 to implement Equal Pay, supported by a robust job evaluation system.
As you may be aware, in Derby we have been moving towards implementation for a number of years, representing one of the most complex projects the Council and our staff have ever undertaken.
The exercise covers approximately 3600 Derby City Council employees and approximately 2600 School Support Staff in our 72 schools. The authority has spent significant time, effort and expense in our attempts to reach a collective agreement with our three Trade Unions, to the extent that the implementation of the project was delayed by five months at significant additional cost to rate payers in Derby. Unfortunately, this was not possible within a timeframe acceptable to us.
The new pay structure and associated terms and conditions were accepted on a voluntary individual basis by more than 70 per cent of all employees. Many staff gained as a result of this process, others experienced little or not change, while for some their remuneration has regrettably decreased.
However, under current legislation, we still had to dismiss and offer re-engagement to over 1500 colleagues. While this was not our desired method of implementation, we were able to do this in such a manner that not one single Employment Tribunal claim was received, despite very strong opposition from Unison locally.
One of the major issues causing us concern arises from our need to move some employees, primarily in our schools, from a payment based on working 32.5 hours a week and 39 weeks a year to an equal basis with other employees, who have to work 37 hours a week and 45/46 weeks a year.
Unfortunately, one of our three Trade Unions, Unison, chose to ballot for industrial action over the introduction of the results of job evaluation in our schools. As a result, a small number of school support staff in Unison have taken ongoing industrial action to try to obtain improved terms and conditions.
We believe Unison is acting disproportionately. There are 2700 school support staff impacted by changes to terms and conditions, of which Unison represent approximately 1200. Moreover, we understand that only 400 Unison members voted in the recent ballot.
As a result of the strikes, we have been meeting with Unison, facilitated by ACAS, in an attempt to prevent further disruption in our schools. We have repeatedly returned to the negotiating table to end the dispute, which we believe is in the best interests of our employees, schools and the families impacted by the strikes.
Moreover, we have worked closely with schools to mitigate any loss of hours where possible and in August we offered a support package to those worst affected which included a £1,000 lump sum payment. Most recently, we met with Unison on Friday 9 September in a further attempt to avert proposed industrial action by school support staff, planned for 14, 19 and 27 September and 6 October. On Friday we made a further revised offer but regrettably, Unison has unilaterally decided to pursue strike action without further consultation with their members.
The details of the Council’s revised offer were as follows:
A gross lump sum payment of £2000 where school support staff have been affected by a reduction in hours; a reduction in weeks and the loss of an allowance previously claimed in 2015/16. This represents double the previous offer.
A commitment to work proactively with every school to, wherever possible, move every temporary increase in hours to permanent and increase the number of mitigation hours per week to 37.
Repayment of any monies deducted in respect of industrial action taken between 1 June 2016 and 18 August 2016 so no employee is out of pocket as a result of previous strikes.
This offer was contingent on the suspension of the proposed strike and would have covered all school support staff impacted by changes introduced on 1 June, irrespective of whether they are Unison members or if the school had mitigated their hours and weeks.
As a Labour Council, we have always sought to reach agreement with the three trade unions throughout the job evaluation process. Our relationship with Unite and GMB are excellent.
However, Unison’s refusal to delay industrial action while still in talks with the authority is reflective of a wider reluctance to engage in meaningful negotiation to end the dispute.
Impact on Schools
We are deeply concerned that further strikes will have a damaging impact on the education of children and young people across the city, as well as causing severe disruption for parents and carers. Previous strikes involved fewer than 270 employees, yet resulted in the closure of six Derby schools.
Latest Derby City Council Position
Derby City Council is required by law to implement the outcomes of job evaluation. The adverse impact experienced by school support staff is deeply regrettable and we are committed to working with schools to mitigate changes to terms and conditions.
However, it is imperative that we ensure any settlement can be justified to other employees of the authority who have also undergone job evaluation, as well as council tax payers and our external auditors. It is not possible to arbitrarily overrule the outcome of job evaluation without placing the validity of the entire project in jeopardy.
We believe the offer that has been made to Unison represents a generous concession to those school support staff most severely impacted by changes to terms and conditions, while fulfilling our responsibilities to other employees.
As you are aware, the Council faces a challenging financial situation as a result of the draconian extent of Government cuts. We are required to make a further £45 million of savings by 2019, in addition to £116 million already delivered.
What Unison have asked for is something for everyone and therefore to extend the lump sum payment to all 2700 school support staff would cost an additional £4.9 million bringing the total to £5.4 million, plus on-costs. This figure is completely unfeasible given the current financial position of the authority and more significantly lead to counter claims from 3600 Council employees also covered by the Equal Pay exercise.
Our door remains open to Unison, however we cannot negotiate while industrial action closes our schools.
Categories: Derby City Council