Corona Virus update

The branch is dealing with a large number of enquiries from members about Corona Virus as you would expect.

The branch has a wide range of employers, from the largest West Sussex County Council to the smallest, such as social care providers. The advice we can give members clearly depends on the employer. We also know that the situation is very fluid as the government changes its position frequently.

The branch is in frequent contact with WSCC. We are meeting with the Director of HR twice a week, and the Director of Education & Skills (for schools’ members) once a week. It is important for UNISON to work closely with WSCC not just because the greatest number of our members are employed by the council and its schools, but because WSCC should set the standards for how we would want all employers to treat their staff.

For WSCC members:

  • UNISON had intervened to ensure that any staff who cannot work from home but must look after their children will be paid – this now appears though to have been superseded by government advice that all local government staff at WSCC are essential workers whose children can continue to attend school;
  • WSCC are working to a general principle that no staff will suffer any detriment in pay and conditions as a result of Corona Virus. There are some exceptional HR scenarios that could occur which we have already highlighted to the council and we will work through these with them as and when they arise to ensure no staff lose out;
  • UNISON has asked for more guidance on home-working and videoconferencing to be shared;
  • UNISON has asked for more clarity on WSCC advice to pregnant staff: all pregnant staff should be self-isolating on normal pay for 12 weeks in line with government guidance – and this is UNISON’s strong advice to pregnant members;
  • There is a moratorium on all new formal reorganisations/restructures being initiated;
  • Please look out for the HR updates from WSCC, issued usually through ‘One Voice’.

For school’s members:

The main gap we are concerned about is the lack of specific HR guidance issued to schools. We have escalated this to the Chief Executive. In practice, WSCC schools will treat their staff in the same ways as WSCC non-schools staff. But this has not been communicated and is causing a number of issues. We understand that this vital HR communication to Head teachers will go out today [Friday 20th March]. Any members in schools concerned about what they will be paid if they need to self-isolate or socially distance themselves should get in touch with the branch.

We will need to hear from members working for academies if their practices are less generous than WSCC schools in practice.

For members working for contractors of WSCC:

Many members of UNISON work for contractors to WSCC, providing services that only a few years ago WSCC would have provided itself. We are deeply concerned that although WSCC is offering good terms and conditions to staff during this period, that many contractors are not. For example, UNISON’s members in Capita only receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if they have less than one year’s service. And many providers of social care only offer SSP to their staff.

The council’s public health strategy is not credible whilst so many frontline public service staff remain on SSP or may be asked to take unpaid leave if self-isolating or social-distancing themselves. It is vital and very welcome that WSCC and schools staff get good conditions; but unacceptable that other workers do not. This is what the Corona Virus crisis is shining a light on. We have asked the Chief Executive for a review of all council contractors sick pay practices to be completed, with a view to WSCC encouraging and supporting those contractors to improve staff terms and conditions. We are working where we can with other employers to press them for the best terms and conditions for staff, and clarity on what these are.

We are taking up issues with Capita on dependent’s leave when schools partially close, and on SSP for staff in their first year of employment.

Welfare payments

The branch is launching a welfare support scheme for members who receive SSP or reduced hours due to Corona Virus. More details are available here.

Please take care of yourselves, your families and others throughout this crisis, and do not hesitate to contact your rep or the branch office if you need advice.