Monday, 3 August 2015

North Lanarkshire Update

A fog of mystery surrounds the chain of events which led to the GMB union leaving the settlement negotiations with North Lanarkshire Council in the latter part of 2014.

As regular readers know the GMB's involvement in these discussions became untenable because unlike all the other equal pay claimants (represented by Action 4 Equality Scotland, Fox and Partners Solicitors, Unison and Unite), the GMB decided to restrict its members claims to only three years.

In effect this mean that at the GMB was paddling a completely different canoe and now which was not challenging the discriminatory basis of NLC's pay arrangements or the implementation of the Council's job evaluation scheme.

Despite the fact that the GMB was given an opportunity to change its position and follow the lead of Action 4 Equality Scotland and the other participants.  

Now my understanding is that the GMB left the settlement discussions when they resumed at the third meeting, having been asked to clarify whether the union wished to fall into line with everyone else at the second meeting - to which the answer was 'No'.

But who actually attended the three separate settlement discussion meetings on behalf of the GMB and who sought guidance (and from whom) on whether the union ought to reverse its dumb decision to restrict GMB members' claims to only 3 years.

And what was the 'reason' for the union deciding foolishly to stick to its guns when all the other parties involved (including two other unions) were going down a very different path?

I know that some GMB members have already asked these question of the union's leaders in Scotland yet, so far at least, no answers have been forthcoming.

The good news is that there were a variety of people (including lawyers) present at  the NLC settlement discussions and so it should not be too hard to hard to get to the truth.   

So watch this space.    

Leadership Material

Image result for leadership material

Dan Hodges wrote an interesting article for the Total Politics web site with the thought provoking strap line "What happens if Corbyn wins?".
The full piece can be read via the following link, but it seems inevitable to me that civil war would break out because no one seriously believes that a Corbyn-led Labour party could win a general election in 2020.

Because as I said in an earlier post Jeremy Corbyn has 'risen without trace' in the Labour party for the past 32 years and during the past four decades this 66-year old has failed to make any kind of impression while Labour was either in government or sitting on the opposition benches. 

So to suggest that Jeremy Corbyn is capable of acting as UK Prime Minister is as daft as it sounds since that is the only reason for anyone wishing to become their party's leader - that they have the ability, experience and leadership qualities needed to govern the country in difficult times. 

True, there may be some who see Jeremy as Labour's answer to Alexis Tsipras in Greece, but just look at the mess Syriza has made of trying to play 'hard ball' with their neighbours in the European Union.

Political Suicide (24/07/15)

Michael White writing in The Guardian had some interesting thoughts on Tony Blair's intervention in the Labour leadership contest and concludes by comparing the fate of Syriza in Greece to the current madness over Jeremy Corbyn's chances of winning the Labour crown.

Now I know what he means, but I think the comparison with Syriza and Alexis Tsipras is  overblown because I don't see Labour party members electing a man who has been an MP for 32 years and failed to make any kind of big impression during that time - even during the 13 years of a majority Labour Government at Westminster between 1997 and 2010.

The fact is that Jeremy Corbyn has 'risen without trace', as some once said of David Frost, and the Labour Party would be voting for political suicide if it were daft enough to elect Jeremy as its leader.

If you ask me both women candidates, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, would be better bets for making Labour electable again, but I agree with Michael White's view that none of the four contenders really set the heather alight.

Unfinished Business

Image result for scottish ambulance service + BBC images

The Scotsman ran an interesting story the other day about soaring sickness levels in the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS).

The full article can be read via this link to The Scotsman, but apparently the service has lost 570,000 hours since June 2014 and sickness levels are running at 7 per cent a year which is much higher than other parts of the NHS or, indeed, the private sector.

Predictably, one anonymous paramedic put the problem down to workload and long shifts without proper breaks and this message was reinforced by a union official who blamed the rise in sickness levels on a lack of resources and stress.

Now lots of people do stressful jobs yet their occupations don't suffer anything like these high levels of sickness, so I don't 'buy' the stress and resources argument for a moment.

The 12 hour shifts that are so popular in much of the public sector these days may be a factor, but the reality is that the staff and the unions are keen on these long 12 hour shifts because employees consequently work fewer days and have more days off in any given week, month or year.

I wrote extensively about this issue on the blog site a few years ago when there was a dispute in the Scottish Ambulance Service over paid rest breaks.

Seems to me like nothing much has changed and that some big underlying issues remain to be addressed because all that's happened is that the SAS has paid out more public money for ambulance staff to disturb their rest breaks, when necessary, to respond to emergency calls.

Yet the result is that sickness levels have increased dramatically.

Meanwhile ambulance staff and the unions want to have their cake and eat by pressing for fully paid breaks while retaining their very long 12 hour shifts.  

Wrong End of Telescope (8/1/12)

A worker in the Scottish Amubulance Sevice (SAS) has been in touch by e-mail - to put over a rather different point of view in the long-running SAS 'rest breaks' dispute.

So I said that I would summarise the key points - which I presume are supported by the three trade unions - GMB, Unison and Unite.

And here is my understanding of what the unions are arguing - on behalf of their SAS members.

Rest Breaks Dispute - the union case
  • The SAS and/or Scottish government are to blame for everything
  • Several years ago (2004) the EU introduced new working time rules
  • The Working Time Directive required all workers to have a break
  • At that time SAS staff were (still are) on duty for a 12 hour period
  • SAS solution was to introduce a 0.75 hour break for each shift
  • Staff pay was not affected - it remained the same as before
  • But the break was unpaid - and not agreed by staff or the unions
  • Over 24 hours the SAS is 'paying' for only 22.5 hours worth of cover
  • Whereas SAS should be paying for 24 hours worth of cover
  • Over a year the 0.75 unpaid hour is worth around £2,200 per person
  • Unions want this break to be paid = £2,200 more per person per year
  • In return staff will to respond to 999 calls during their rest breaks
Now the person who contacted me was very polite and courteous - and I agreed to keep their name and details confidential.

But I have to say that I disagree entirely with the case the trade unions are advancing - because it seems completely unreasonable and over the top to me - for a whole number of powerful reasons.

Firstly it is not good practice (and unlawful under the WTD) for ambulance staff to be working routinely for 12 hours straight without a scheduled break. The unions should be ashamed of themselves for arguing such a ridiculous position.

Secondly, the unpaid rest break introduced as a result of the Working Time Directive did not lead to any loss of pay - simply that ambulance staff did not get an extra £2,200 a year.

Thirdly, because of these long 12 hour shifts (why are they so long anyway?) and the way work is currently organised ambulance crews are being asked to respond to emergency 999 calls during their rest breaks. But this is not a big deal and according to the Scottish Ambulance Service - staff are disturbed on average only once per year.

So to my mind the trade unions are trying their best to make a mountain out of an industrial molehill. Because how can it be reasonable for someone to be paid £2,200 for having their rest break disturbed on average once a year?

Now that sounds completely bonkers to me - because I used to work in the NHS myself. I used to work night shift sometimes (not 12 hours long) but a break was always built into the shift - even though there was no point in leaving the premises since nothing was open at that time of night.

In any event the substantive issue was that I was entitled to a break at a notionally fixed point during my shift - but if an emergency arose this was simply re-scheduled and taken later at a convenient time.

To my mind this is all about money - nothing else - with the unions encouraging their members to look at the issue through the wrong end of the telescope.

Being paid an extra £100 every time your rest break gets disturbed - on average once per year - seems perfectly fine to me. Especially as it's an exceptional event and people still get a break at some other point during their long shift.

So what's the big deal?

I happen to think it's an enormous waste of public money - to offer every ambulance worker £1,500 to move over to the new system.

Because I don't understand what the £1500 is for - in the context of a new, reasonable and forward-looking £100 payment.

Seems to me it's just an old-fashioned, unjustified sweetener - which will cost the public purse around £3.7 million that it can ill-afford in such straitened times.

So I would say we have the worst of all possible worlds - weak management from the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) and equally weak leadership from the trade unions.

The SAS seems incapable of getting a message - explaining what the key issues are - despite its role in running the service on behalf of the Scottish public.

The trade unions for their part swear the dispute is not about money - yet the facts suggest otherwise - since the cost of implementing their demands would add around £5.5 million a year to the SAS pay bill.

One final point, the SAS is a very male dominated service.

But did you ever see the GMB, Unison or Unite make such fuss over a much bigger issue - equal pay for low paid women in Scotland's councils?

The answer of course is - No.

Ambulance Service (19/12/11)

I have finally received a response to my FOI 'review request' - to the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS).

I am going to publish their reply tomorrow along with my thoughts on what the SAS has to say - but in the meantime here's a reminder of what I was asking the SAS about - their policy on 'rest breaks'.

Is it all a fuss about nothing - or is there a genuine issue at stake?

Log in tomorrow - and decide for yourself.

Fingers and Pulses (October 12th 2011)

As ever the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) has its finger on the national pulse - here's what the SAS says about emergency 999 calls and rest breaks - a topic which has been hitting the news headlines recently.

"Rest breaks

We work hard to ensure that staff are appropriately rested, monitor this very closely. Given that we are an emergency service, this can at times be challenging. Rest breaks are managed carefully to ensure the minimum impact upon availability of resources. Breaks for crews are staggered throughout the day and resources are moved around to ensure there is cover. This can be most challenging in rural stations where there may only be one or two ambulances on shift and, if necessary, resources will be strategically moved several miles to a midpoint from another station to provide cover during a rest period.

The current rest break policy for ambulance services was introduced by the UK Government as part of its Agenda for Change pay modernisation programme in 2004. Under the terms of the policy, ambulance crews are entitled to an uninterrupted break during their operational shift.

In Scotland, ambulance crews are offered the opportunity to ‘opt out’ of the policy, for which they are given an annual payment of £250 and paid a further £5 for each time that they are disturbed during a break.

The Scottish Ambulance Service is in ongoing dialogue with government to seek a solution to the challenges that exist in complying with this policy."

Yes, you guessed correctly - this is the very same statement that has been on the SAS web site for months.

Not a word is said about the recent intervention of Scotland's health secretary - Nicola Sturgeon - who has banged heads together and imposed a temporary solution - which is aimed at protecting people's lives.

Here's a post from the blog site last week.

Not About Money (October 6th 2011)

I've written a few articles about the ambulance service 'rest breaks' dispute recently - here's a previous post from 25 September 2011.

The trade unions have been telling us all for months that the dispute was not about money - yet last night news came through that a settlement has been reached.

And do you know what broke the deadlock - money - a measly £50.

The Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) has made an improved offer which doubles - from £50 to £100 - the payment made to ambulance workers for interrupting their rest breaks - and responding to emergency 999 calls.

So if an extra £50 on the table has brokered a settlement - how can anyone say that the dispute was not about money in the first place?

I think we should be told - but so far the SAS has failed to provide the public with any answers - though a statement will be made later today in the Scottish Parliament.

Money, Money, Money (September 25th 2011)

Two more trade unions - Unison and Unite - have joined the GMB in rejecting a new pay deal - that would require Scottish ambulance crews to respond to emegency 999 calls - during their rest breaks.

The unions all say that the dispute is not about pay - and all three unions recommended acceptance of the new pay deal - by their members.

But the GMB, Unison and Unite were all rebuffed - which speaks volumes about the leadership of the trade unions - unless something else is going on behind the scenes.

If the dispute is not about money - then what is the real sticking point?

Because two people - two fellow Scots - have died recently while waiting for an ambulance in circumstances which may have turned out differently - if the nearest crew had not insisted on taking an 'uninterrupted' rest break.

Some do and some don't - but what's the big deal?

The public aren't stupid - but both the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) and the trade unions are treating the public like idiots.

All three unions have voted down a second pay deal that offered personnel £4.80 a week extra to be available during breaks - with an additional payment of £50 for each occasion they are called out during that time.

To my mind the present situation is a disgrace.

The management of the SAS appear weak and confused - while the unions insist that money isn't the issue - but won't say what is.

What a way to run an emergency service.

Money, Money, Money (06/01/12)

Here's how BBC Scotland have just reported the latest twist in the ambulance workers dispute.

Apparently members of Unite have apparently rejected their own union's advice  and voted No to the new offer by 62%.

Although we don't know yet how many ballot papers were sent out and how many ballot papers were returned.

Now this is a democratic decision, but a disgraceful one - a sign that the lunatics have taken over the asylum to coin a phrase.

To my mind offering people £1,500 a year was money for nothing, especially when people were being offered £100 for every time their rest break gets disturbed. 

Which according to the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) happens - on average - about once a year.

I wonder what the other two unions - GMB and Unison - will have to say?

Ambulance breaks row offer rejected by Unite members

The death of Mandy Mathieson brought the issue to public attention

Ambulance staff with the Unite union have rejected a new deal to increase payments for having their breaks interrupted by emergency calls.

The death of Mandy Mathieson, of Moray, brought the row to wider public attention.

An ambulance technician stationed close to her home did not respond to a call as he was on a break.

Unite said 62% of ballot papers returned by members rejected the new proposal.

The Scottish Ambulance Service tabled the offer to try to break the deadlock in the long-running dispute.

It would have seen paramedics and technicians receive a one-off payment of £1,500, then £100 each time their rest break is interrupted to attend an emergency call.

Unions and management have been trying to find a solution to the issue since Ms Mathieson, from Tomintoul, died in October 2010.