Having become the new council leadership in early August, we have moved quickly to understand the issues affecting staff transferring from their former employer, Mears, into the council’s new Housing Repairs service, which began back in April, under the previous Labour-led council.
Green Councillors have therefore met the GMB on numerous occasions to discuss and understand the Housing Repairs dispute, as part of continued discussions with the trade union that have taken place since we became the administration.
For the sake of both the council’s tenants, and the wellbeing of the Housing Repairs team, Green councillors are committed to working with the GMB to resolve the dispute and avoid further industrial action.
After making the argument for a number of weeks for a legal ‘conference’, where the trade union and employer could share their legal arguments, we have been really pleased to see that the conference happened earlier this week (12th October) attended by the GMB and representatives of all political parties.
On both sides, the arguments were laid out and we welcome the fact that both sides used the opportunity to seek a meaningful solution. We are also pleased that all involved remain committed to resolving the issues.
The conference followed constructive discussions on 24 and 25 September, when the GMB opted to call off the upcoming industrial action scheduled for that week, to allow them to continue discussions with their members. We want to publicly welcome this and thank the GMB for continuing to engage as we seek a way forward. We also want to stress again our wish to find a positive resolution to the dispute.
The dispute centres on the transfer of staff moving from their former employer, Mears, into the council’s Housing Repairs service, and an inherited pay dispute.
We understand that, based on the results of an initial job evaluation process, the council’s employment package means that the majority – 88% of staff who previously worked for Mears – are likely to receive a substantial pay rise should they transfer onto council terms, as well as enhanced sick pay, annual leave and pension entitlements compared to the terms of their previous contracts. All of these benefits will be backdated to 1 April.
Negotiations have however been ongoing around the few exceptions to this. There are a handful of staff whose current pay, under their former contract, is understood to be above the council’s pay grade for their job description.
We firmly support transfer – or TUPE – rights and therefore we stress that under the terms of the transfer no staff will be forced to take a pay cut. Where staff are currently paid more than their council counterparts they can choose to stay on their existing terms, without their pay being affected. We want to support staff to do what is right for them and also address as far as possible any concerns.
Equal pay concerns
However, looking at people’s pay also brings into light the importance of equal pay legislation. Any resolution to this dispute must be fair and equitable to all council employees, and legal advice to the council has been clear that any offer of enhanced terms compared to other staff (e.g. should these staff be allowed to transfer onto a council contract, with the benefit of sick pay and holiday pay, while retaining their current pay level) could create a huge financial equal pay issue for the council. This cannot be ignored, particularly in light of the straitened financial circumstances the council currently faces as a result of the pandemic.
Our door remains open and we are pleased to have been able to continue to discuss these issues with the GMB.
Finally, however, we must address allegations made by the GMB with regard to the ‘Green administration.’ While we have moved quickly to understand the dispute, we cannot uphold claims of:
– ‘strike busting,’ – claims we have employed agency staff to cover work undertaken by those on strike are untrue. It was previously agreed that trade operatives and office-based staff would be recruited over a period of 12 months to help resolve a backlog of repairs which have come about due to Covid-19 restrictions and a shortfall in the repairs team (not all original members of the team chose to transfer in-house). This recruitment was taking place prior to the dispute but nonetheless, we have moved to voluntarily suspend any recruitment in order to avoid concerns on the part of the GMB that this could be linked to the dispute, and we have also contacted the GMB about this.
– ‘City Clean,’ – we have learned of attempts to make allegations that the ‘Green administration’ are seeking to involve City Clean staff terms and conditions in this dispute. City Clean staff are not involved in the Housing Repairs dispute and it is our goal to seek to continually improve industrial relations in this service, particularly given previous issues, which we are well aware of.• Some Cityclean staff receive an additional payment for working bank holidays which is called the Residents Service Guarantee payment. This is not part of their basic salary and is an additional payment that some Cityclean staff receive, should they agree to work bank holidays. There is no decision to remove RSG and RSG will be paid at Christmas as normal, and for subsequent bank holidays next year