Monday, 23 July 2007

NONE SO BLIND, AS WILL NOT SEE!

A male employee of North Ayrshire council has been in touch to say he is unhappy at our criticism of the local management and trade unions - because, in his considered opinion, they are not really favouring the men over the women - when it comes to equal pay.

In support of this argument, he explains that his current hourly rate as a refuse worker (others are better paid) is £8.40 - but that this will drop to £7.60 under the new single status pay structure - though his current earnings will be protected for at least another 3 years - by which time of course the normal annual 'cost of living' pay increases (of 3% or so per year) will take him back up to where he started.

But what our male refuse worker fails to recognise - of course - is that he has been on this much higher rate of pay for years and years. Whereas many women's jobs that have been on the same or even a higher grade than his - have been earning £2 to £3 per hour less for all that time - which adds up to thousands of pounds over the piece!

So, the fact is that our friend is simply corroborating what we knew already - that many women's jobs in North Ayrshire (and elsewhere) have been undervalued and underpaid for many years - and it's not the unions or management who are changing things - it's Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross.

And for the record - equal pay was never supposed to be about reducing the pay of men - for any reason. The employers have simply chosen to go down that route to save money, given their failure (along with the unions) to implement the 'single status' pay agreement back in 1999.

Equal pay was always about levelling up - and rewarding properly the skills and responsibilities of women council workers - who've been taking second best for years, while the trade unions and management have conveniently looked the other way.

No offence to our refuse worker colleague from North Ayrshire - he does an important job - but if he has been worth £8.40 per hour for all these years - how much more was a Home Carer, or Classroom Assistant or School Cook worth?

That's what this is all about - and as the employers and unions both know - it's been as plain as the nose on your face for all these years!

North Lanarkshire - new 'dodgy' ballot

North Lanarkshire Council went ahead and imposed a new 'single status' pay structure in the autumn of 2006 - despite the fact that the workforce voted overwhelmingly to reject the package put forward by management and trade unions.

Now the unions are continuing to do the employers dirty work - by conjuring up a second ballot right at the height of the holiday period!

A letter from the local Unison branch dated 6 July announces a new ballot which must be completed and returned by 3 August 2007 - i.e. in less than a month and at a time when all the schools are closed and many people are off on their summer holidays.

The timing stinks to high heaven - and suggests that the unions are simply trying to smuggle through a YES vote on a low return - while many of their members have more important things on their minds!

Otherwise why not organise a ballot when people are at their work and can also attend workplace meetings - where they can ask questions of their elected representatives?

Next thing you know, Unison will be organising ballots over the Xmas and New Year holidays - in an effort to get their way.

The new package is very similar to the first one - the biggest single difference is that it proposes a further year's protection for the earnings of the male bonus earners, but scraps off the table for everyone else.

So, yet again the interests of women members (the great majority) are relegated to a poor second place.

Monday, 16 July 2007

GMB FAT CATS - THE SAGA CONTINUES

The story about the GMB's Fat Cats has taken a strange and bizarre twist.

The £200,000 salary figure was originally reported by Personnel Today magazine - but it turns out that not all of that amount was paid to the current General Secretary (Paul Kenny) - some of it was apparently paid to his predecessor (Kevin Curran) whom Paul Kenny replaced as Acting General Secretary in March 2005.

How much was paid to Kevin Curran - and more importantly why - has yet to be explained by the GMB - but the fact is that in 2006/07 the GMB paid £199,000 to its 'two' general secretaries - one of whom stopped working for the union in 2004/05.

Unbelievable, incredible - are the words that spring to mind - as well as the thought: What kind of way is that to spend GMB members' money?

If the GMB wants to set the record straight, by explaining who was paid precisely what and, more importantly, why? - we'll be only too happy to publish the details here.

The likely answer is that part of the £199,000 is some kind of unseemly pay off to the outgoing general secretary, Kevin Curran. If so, it would not be the first time that the GMB has got into such a sorry mess.

In 2003, the GMB's Scottish Secretary (Robert Parker) resigned his post in disgrace after being taken to an Employment Tribunal by two female members of staff - who made very serious complaints of bullying and sexual harassment.

After a protracted fight in the courts and much damning evidence, Parker was allowed to walk away with a substantial pay off - instead of being held to account by the GMB for his brutish behaviour towards two female colleagues - his Personal Assistant and a Regional Organiser.

The affair cost the GMB hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal expenses and compensation payments to the two women involved - and the GMB General Secretary (John Edmonds at the time) had to approve the pay off to Parker reported to be £50,000. Parker was last seen working as a refuse collector with South Lanarkshire Council.

The most recent GMB official to disgrace himself publicly is of course Ken Simpson - who was found guilty of abducting a woman and subjecting her to a series of violent sexual attacks - see post dated 16 June 2007: Disgrace in Aberdeenshire.

Ken Simpson was also allowed to resign quietly from the GMB - who knows whether he was given a pay off as well, but if the GMB want to clarify things, we'll publish the details on the web site.

Meantime, ordinary GMB members must be wondering what the hell is going on?

Saturday, 14 July 2007

GMB - FAT CATS RULE OK?

GMB members in Scotland will be amazed to hear (not that their own union will tell them) that the recently installed General Secretary - Paul Kenny - is to be paid a Fat Cat salary of £200,000 a year - a handsome package which includes a top of the range car and final year's salary pension scheme!

The GMB is, of course, fond of complaining about the high salaries and dividends paid to captains of industry - so this takes the biscuit for hypocrisy and union double speak. What must low-paid GMB members think of their organisation and its leaders?

Now a labourer is worthy of his (or her) hire, of course. And, quite sensibly, some unions have introduced a link between the pay of their own full-time officials and the ordinary members the union represents.

The EIS (teachers union in Scotland) - for example - links the pay of their most senior official to the highest paid secondary school teacher in Scotland - not a bad arrangement and one that most members can at least understand and support.

But unless the GMB have recruited Donald Trump recently - to the GMB's Midtown Manhattan Branch - there's no way that any ordinary GMB member earns anything remotely approaching £200,000 a year!

Now Paul Kenny is a nice enough chap - a kind of cheeky chappy, London barrow boy type - but Paul and the GMB have shot themselves in both feet with this 'high on the hog' behaviour.

Remember this is the same organisation whose officials on the ground have been telling low paid GMB members not to rock the boat - and not to be 'greedy' - when it comes to equal pay.

Truth is stranger than fiction - as they say - and this tale is one that even the GMB's worst enemies couldn't make up.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

NHS Joint Futures - Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid!

Sources within Scottish Executive have drawn an interesting fact to our attention. Some of the 'best brains' from local government and the unions have apparently been giving NHS Scotland the benefit of their wisdom and experience - on how to deal with equal pay.

The Joint Futures Human Resources Group (JFHRG) met with ministers and civil servants back in 2004 to drive forward a modernising pay agenda - talks which led to, you guessed, Agenda for Change.

So here are some of the brightest and best who gave of their valuable time to the JFHRG - free of charge as far as we can tell.

Iris Wylie - a legend in her own lunchtime and head of personnel at North Lanarkshire Council (NLC) - largely responsible for the dog's dinner NLC has made of equal pay, having lost a crucial ballot is now simply ignoring the workforce and the unions - long time advisor to CoSLA (the employers umbrella body) on equal pay amongst other things - see previous post dated 16 April 2007.

Joe Di Paola - Unison's key negotiator on equal pay from 1999 to 2006 at which point Joe suddenly jumped ship and transferred his allegiance to the employers side - now installed as CoSLA's equal pay supremo, but this poacher turned gamekeeper has zero credibility with his new employer chums and former union colleagues - see previous post dated 16 April 2007

Murray MacFarlane - head of personnel at North Ayrshire Council and the inspiration behind the council's current 'scorched earth' approach towards industrial relations with staff - North Ayrshire is going down the same bullying route as North Lanarkshire Council by imposing changes and behaving like a rougue employer - see previous posts dated 02 and 12 July 2007.

So, if the track record of these individuals is anything to go by, the message for NHS staff is clear - be afraid, be very afraid!

AGENDA FOR CHANGE - LATEST NEWS

The NHS unions in Scotland (GMB and Unison) have now been joined to the Employment Tribunal proceedings that are underway against the employers.

Why? Because the unions are jointly responsible for the implementation of Agenda for Change - not just the NHS management.

The trade unions are taking joint decisions via local Grading Panels - in both hospital and community settings which is how NHS staff get placed on their new Agenda for Change band or grade.

But many people rightly complain that these union reps are often invisible, anonymous figures - who under trained and ill-equipped to do the job - and who are not accountable to NHS staff and union members for the decisions they make.

So, instead of Agenda for Change being handled in an open and transparent way - with decisions being made consistently and fairly across all the NHS employers - staff are faced with anomalies and contradictory decisions.

Worse still, the whole exercise is conducted in an atmosphere of secrecy and suspicion - one where awkward, but very reasonable, questions are definitely not welcome!

The bottom line is that the unions can't have it both ways - they can't be on the same side as the employers, then wash their hands of things when grading decisions are challenged and overturned.


So, Unison and the other NHS unions are in the frame along with the employers - they have to account for their actions as well - and explain why Agenda for Change continues to treat many male dominated jobs more favourably than jobs done mainly by women.

In England and Wales, for example, Unison is distributing publicity leaflets to members which sing the praises of Agenda for Change. Whereas in Scotland, Unison pretends to fight for members at the Employment Tribunals - yet they are jointly responsible for the very same grading decisions they are claiming to be flawed.

How crazy is that?

Here are some questions that union members might like to put to their representatives:

  1. How do union members know that their job has been banded fairly, if they don't know the outcome for other male dominated jobs?
  2. Why don't the unions publish information about the implementation of Agenda for Change across all NHS employers in Scotland?
  3. How do the unions ensure that local reps are fully trained and competent in the job evaluation techniques that underpin Agenda for Change?
  4. How are these local reps appointed and how are they accountable to the local union membership?
  5. How can the unions sign the praises of Agenda for Change in England and Wales - yet pretend that they are not jointly responsible for its implementation in Scotland?
Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross will ensure the unions are not let off the hook - the trade unions in Scotland have a lot to answer for and - as we've shown in the council sector - we will hold them to account in the NHS as well.

North Ayrshire - STOP PRESS

North Ayrshire continues to make a mess of its new 'single status' pay and grading structures - which are being imposed despite the workforce voting to reject the council's proposals earlier this year.

Many clients have been in touch this week to complain that management and trade unions are less concerned about equal pay for women - and more exercised about protecting the earnings of the traditionally higher paid male groups.

Women's jobs - jobs that have been undervalued and underpaid for years - are still being held back while the management and unions agree to protect the higher pay of the higher paid jobs such as refuse workers.


To add insult to injury, management and the unions are now promising to redesign these jobs - so that they continue to be better paid for many years into the future.

Equal pay is about closing the pay gap - and treating male and female workers fairly. But what North Ayrshire is doing is reinforcing the pay gap and maintaining differentials - which is completely wrong and indefensible. (See post on Fife Council dated 4 April)

North Ayrshire is also getting people's backs up by placing many jobs at the bottom of the new pay scales - so that it takes several years in some cases for people to work their way to the top, which simply opens the door to further claims of age discrimination.

Why? Because no one can seriously expect an experienced worker with 5, 10 or 20 years service to start all over again - from the bottom of the pay ladder. No, this is just a mean spirited way of the council trying to save money on the back of its workers.

The best answer to these shenanigans is, of course, to register an equal pay claim - because instead of playing by the council's rules these issues are put before an independent external tribunal - which is not in the employer's pocket, unlike the trade unions.

So, don't be bullied and shoved around - take action and get the help you need to defend your interests.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

North Ayrshire - Job Evaluation

North Ayrshire Council is not only in the process of imposing new contracts on all of its staff - the council is also trying to lay down the law when it comes to challenging the new grades that flow from its job evaluation scheme.

North Ayrshire will no doubt follow the same path as other councils that have gone down this route:
  1. The council will refuse to give details of how other (male dominated) jobs have been graded - an essential piece of information - otherwise how can anyone judge if the exercise has been carried out fairly and properly, when they can't compare one job to another?

  2. The council will try to restrict people's rights of appeal - to very narrow and limited grounds of appeal - ones stacked in the council's favour instead of being fair and even-handed - but the management are just making these rules up as they go along

  3. The council will introduce ridiculous time limits - which have not even been discussed never mind agreed staff - again just to make life difficult and discourage people from challenging their new grades.
The good news is that by pursuing an equal pay claim these vital issues are taken to an independent body - an Employment Tribunal - which crucially is outside of the council's control.

North Ayrshire then ceases to be both judge and jury in its own cause, which is what really terrifies the senior management - who have been making a mess of equal pay for all these years.

Action 4 Equality will be issuing advice to clients about the job evaluation process - this can be sent to you electronically, if you would like to request a copy by e-mailing Mark Irvine at: markirvine@compuserve.com

Monday, 9 July 2007

NHS UPDATE 2 (of 3)

The second major item from the NHS case management discussion (2 July) was the ongoing row about whether the NHS in Scotland acts, in practice, as a single employer.

Why is this important?

Because if the NHS can be regarded as a single employer, then the process for dealing with all the outstanding cases will speed up enormously.

Instead of having to deal with all the individual health boards (and other employers such as NHS 24) separately - it would be possible for the parties at the Employment Tribunal to agree that test cases be brought for each occupational group - on the understanding that the outcome would be binding on all other claims - right across NHS Scotland.

Clearly, this would save a huge amount of time, energy and expense - for everyone involved - so you can bet your life the employers will resist such an eminently sensible suggestion.

The good news is that the Scottish Executive has finally been forced to concede what has been obvious for some time. NHS Scotland has no freedom to act independently when it comes to staff pay and conditions - the employers have to follow ministerial regulations which are binding in law and must be obeyed.

In response to a recent Freedom Of Information request (from Mark Irvine) the Scottish Executive has now confirmed:

"Staff who work in NHS Scotland (including those covered by the Agenda for Change agreement) are employees of the health boards and are not directly employed by Scottish Ministers. However, statutory provisions do govern their terms and conditions."

What this means is that pay agreements struck on behalf of NHS staff are legally watertight - individual employers cannot change or vary pay and conditions and have no option but to follow the guidance issued by the Scottish Executive.

So, in our view there is every reason to cut to the chase and treat all the NHS employers as a single employer - because that's exactly how the law of the land requires them to behave!

A special case management hearing is to be held to deal with this specific point - no dates have been agreed as yet, but we will let you know when this happens.

The Cabinet Secretary for Health (Nicola Sturgeon) will be invited to join the Employment Tribunal proceedings. This will not please the new health minister because the mess has been created by the previous Labour/Lib Dem administrations - not the new SNP led Scottish Executive.

Yet again, the unions are a bit shamefaced over the whole affair - it's taken all this time to drag the truth out into the open - but the fact is that this information has been available to the unions for many years.

Unison and GMB are the only unions pursuing NHS claims - the RCN and RCM are not at the races, for reasons best known to them!

But Unison really operates as part of the NHS establishment these days - which explains why the union has been keeping its members in the dark about equal pay for years (see post dated 22 April).

Unison had very close relations with the old Scottish Executive - even seconding full-time union officials to work right inside the health department - alongside senior civil servants. Unison also helps to manage the various partnership forums at a national and health board level - which are responsible for monitoring equality issues - although they've been doing a terrible job of looking after staff interests.

While the unions have been cosying up to the employers for years, it has taken Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross to bring the single employer issue out into the open - and that should make the business of bringing equal pay claims a whole lot easier for thousands of NHS staff.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

NHS UPDATE 1 (of 3)

The latest NHS case management discussion (held in Glasgow on 2 July) made some progress, but things are still getting bogged down because the employers continue to argue that their computer systems (heard this lame excuse before?) can't provide accurate information about people's jobs and grades.

Now this would be funny if it were not so ridiculous and frustrating. The employers agreed to provide this information months ago - and they are still coming up with ridiculous excuses. If these people worked for the railways, they'd be blaming delays on the wrong kind of snow!

Why is this information so crucial?

Because in equal pay cases employers are required to explain clearly how many staff work in each job category or grade - and how these jobs are split between male and female employees. In other words, are some jobs done mainly by men or women - and what explains the difference in pay between the two groups?

So, if as Action 4 Equality believes, highly trained nurses and midwives, for example, in very responsible jobs (99% of whom are women) are paid much less than, say, estates managers in jobs that require much less training and carry much less responsibility (99% of whom are men) - then sex discrimination is clearly at work.

No if's, no but's or maybe's -because the only explanation for these big pay differences is that the system treats women less favourably than men - and has done for years!

So, the data the employers have been asked to provide (again) will allow everyone to see the wood for the trees. We believe the only reason for the continued delay is that this information will eventually sink the employers case.

Because it if helped the employers - you can bet your life they would publish the data in a heartbeat!

The trade unions, by the way, are no better than the employers. In 2000, the employers and the unions signed a landmark Equal Opportunities agreement. Via a Scottish Executive circular (PCS (GC) 2000/02), both parties agreed to collate, monitor and keep under review - wait for it - workforce data to help tackle pay discrimination within Scotland's NHS.

Seven years on, the employers say they don't have the data - never collected it as they promised - and the unions pretend has nothing to do with them - despite the fact that the unions were jointly responsible for the monitoring exercise. Yet another example of the unions wearing two hats at the same time.

A further case management discussion - specifically about workforce data - has been agreed for mid-September. If the employers fail to produce the goods at that time, we will ask the Employment Tribunal to issue an order compelling them to do so.

After all, NHS Scotland has had years to provide their information - the employers and trade unions agreed the importance of collecting it as far back as the year 2000 - and there are plenty of highly paid managers around to get the job done.

So it's high time those at the top of the NHS got their collective fingers out!

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Stirling - Settlement in Sight

Stirling is the latest council to come forward with revised offers of settlement to clients of Stefan Cross and Action 4 Equality.

Stirling is one of Scotland's smaller councils, but it does go to show that the employers are talking to one another behind the scenes - and the result of the May council elections has certainly stirred the pot.

Where the control of a council has changed hands - or the administration is under more pressure than before - there appears to be a willingness to deal with the mess that the employers and trade unions have made of equal pay.

At this stage, Stirling is restricting its offer to former manual worker posts - and has not finally decided whether to make a similar offer to former APT&C staff. We are obviously encouraging the council to include as many people as possible - since we believe that all current claims are valid.

Unfortunately, the person dealing with the calculations has gone off on holiday and the council says there is no one else who can do the job while he is away - so there will be a delay in getting things moving for a few weeks yet.

We are writing directly to all Stirling clients with the news - and, of course, in terms of the bigger picture across Scotland it is clearly a good sign that yet another council seems to be coming to its senses.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

North Ayrshire - new contracts

As reported yesterday, North Ayrshire Council has announced its intention to impose new 'single status' contracts on its employees - but without their agreement to the terms of the new contract.

Normally a contract can only be changed with the consent of an individual employee or, in certain circumstances, the collective agreement of the trade unions.

For reasons the council has failed to explain, so far, North Ayrshire says it will simply impose the new contract - regardless of what anyone thinks - which is hardly the sort of behaviour expected of a public sector employer.

But at this stage North Ayrshire Council has only issued a press release via its web site - the council has not written to employees explaining or justifying its actions - and actions speak much louder than words. So our strong advice to clients is simply to sit tight - and do not sign or agree to anything at this stage.

It is not in your interests to agree to these changes voluntarily - it is better for the council to impose the new contract and only after that has happened - should people then accept that they will be working under new contractual terms.

This will put you in the strongest legal position to challenge the council's appalling behaviour - the same thing happened in Falkirk Council last year - and this led to further legal against the council by Stefan Cross and Action 4 Equality.

Unison has issued a protest letter to members - and is urging them to sign and send the letter to the council leader, David O'Neill. This is a silly and pointless exercise - why send a letter to the council before you know exactly what the council is saying? This is putting the cart in front of the horse, big time!

So, our advice is to sit tight - don't sign anything (even letters from Unison) - await the official letter from North Ayrshire - and once we have been able to study exactly what the council is saying, we will write to all Action 4 Equality clients with more detailed advice.

Remember - there is no need to panic - no one is going to be disciplined or get into trouble for standing up for their rights. So, don't let the council bully you into submission.

Monday, 2 July 2007

North Ayrshire Council - Sauce for the Goose

North Ayrshire Council is the latest employer that is trying to impose a new pay and grading structure on its workforce - but without the agreement of its employees or the trade unions (see earlier posts dated 24 January and 14 June).

Just a few days ago, West Lothian Council went down the same route - but the council's behaviour was quickly raised on the floor of the House of Commons.

Local Labour MP, Jim Devine, a former Unison official, condemned the SNP led council and invited the Chancellor (Gordon Brown) to join in the criticism.

Gordon Brown duly did so - willingly and without hesitation. No doubt his decision was made that much easier because West Lothian is now led by the SNP - which wrestled control of the council from Labour at the May elections.

But the fact is that North Ayrshire is behaving in exactly the same way as West Lothian - and what's sauce for the goose should, of course, be sauce for the gander.

So, let's see if the local politicians (MPs, MSPs or councillors) will invite Gordon Brown to step in and make his views known to the Labour leaders of North Ayrshire Council.

If you work for North Ayrshire, this is an ideal opportunity to get your point across to the politicians - key contact details as follows:

Gordon Brown - the new Prime Minister and a vocal critic of West Lothian Council mailto:Councilbrowng@parliament.uk

Kenneth Gibson - a newly elected SNP MSP
Kenneth.Gibson.msp@scottish.parliament.uk

Irene Oldfather - experienced Labour MSP, well known to North Ayrshire council
Irene.Oldfather.msp@scottish.parliament.uk

Katy Clark - Labour MP whose interests include equality issues, according to her biography!
clarkk@parliament.uk

Brian Donohoe - a former Unison official, just like Jim Devine in West Lothian
donohoeb@parliament.uk

David O'Neill - Labour leader of North Ayrshire Council
doneill@north-ayrshire.gov.uk

If you want to visit or speak with your local councillor, their names, addresses and contact details are listed on the council web site: www.north-ayrshire.gov.uk

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Edinburgh - Settlement in Sight

Our clients in Edinburgh will be pleased to learn that we are close to reaching a settlement with the City Council.

Talks have been underway, intermittently, over the past two months. There are still a number of important issues to resolve - but we are confident that an outline agreement with the City Council will be reached soon - hopefully within the next couple of weeks.

If so, a timetable for payment will run over the summer months - with a likely completion date by early September.

We cannot go into specific details at the moment, unfortunately. We are not clear, for example, whether Edinburgh will decide to exclude certain groups, as Glasgow did recently. If so, the fight for these groups will continue.

But as soon as we can spell things out - we will do so via a new post on the web site.

So, everyone one should take heart from the fact that yet another council (Scotland's second largest behind Glasgow) is now keen to settle.

And, of course, people can use this latest breakthrough to put pressure on those councils that are still dragging their feet.