Local pay and a UNISON written recognition agreement

As detailed elsewhere on our website, a pay ballot is about to commence for council staff (including schools and academies) on whether to accept a 2.75% NJC pay award.

However, there is another group of around 500 staff at WSCC on local pay. Their pay award is not nationally bargained but is dealt with locally and is only consulted on – it is not bargained with UNISON.

Steps were taken to resolve this anomaly, with the support of the new Chief Executive, and to also introduce a written recognition agreement with UNISON to codify the existing set of unwritten relationships.

Councillors reject Chief Executive and UNISON

Councillors on the WSCC governance committee were asked to agree this simple step at its meeting on 22 June. However, they threw it out, with every single Conservative councillor voting against and only two opposition councillors voting for (Michael Jones, Labour and Dr James Walsh, Liberal Democrat).

The local press covered the decision, and the branch’s comments on the matter in all West Sussex newspapers.

The decision was deeply troubling for a number of reasons:

  • The Conservative group has gone against the advice of the Chief Executive and HR Director, both of whom have been brought in to fix WSCC and to save the politicians from themselves.
  • It showed a fixation with ideology which simply does not exist in other councils. Voluntary recognition agreements are in place all across Sussex: at East Sussex, Brighton, and most of the districts and boroughs, including the districts and boroughs that many WSCC Conservative members also sit on!

What chance improvement at West Sussex?

All members should be concerned by their decision, taken separately within a full Conservative group meeting of all councillors, and then enacted at the Governance Committee. If councillors will not take the advice of their new Chief Executive, but prefer instead to wage war on staff and their trade union, it does not bode well for this council’s necessary improvement journey. Councillors had seemingly forgot all their previous mistakes that saw WSCC on the brink of being fully taken over by central government as local councillors were not competent to oversee complex public services of such importance as Children’s Services and Fire & Rescue.

But their decision has an immediate impact for UNISON members in the group of 500 staff on local pay.

The process under Nathan Elvery

Members will recall that the 2018-19 and 2019-20 pay awards under the previous Chief Executive Nathan Elvery were painful processes due to the attempt to impose aspects of performance-related pay, derecognise UNISON, and offer sub-NJC awards. These were however all successfully fought off by UNISON and our members, working together.

After this the branch submitted a request for voluntary recognition of UNISON so we could collectively bargain local pay like for all other WSCC staff, rather than the annual local pay award only being subject to consultation. This matter was not resolved because the previous Director of HR Heather Daley linked UNISON recognition for the local pay award to the resolution of a number of other outstanding and complex terms and conditions issues, which never progressed to completion.

In July 2019 when we concluded that year’s consulted pay award UNISON checked with members on local pay whether we should push to use the statutory process available to trade unions if WSCC would not enter agreement voluntarily. 96% wanted us to use the statutory process.

Angry debate

We then saw the sudden departure of Nathan Elvery and sought to try to resolve recognition for your pay with first the Interim and then the new Chief Executive, Becky Shaw. Relations have been positive with Becky Shaw. With both Becky Shaw’s and HR Director Sue Evans’s agreement, WSCC sought to enter a voluntary written recognition agreement with UNISON which would resolve the matter of the local pay award. However, at Governance Committee the Conservative Group refused to enter the voluntary agreement and voted it down. They had taken the view that entering a voluntary recognition agreement for the bargaining of your pay was a political decision which required a discussion within the Tory political group as a whole. The decision was taken within the political group last week to oppose a voluntary recognition agreement for local pay, thereby overruling the Cabinet member with responsibility for the agreement who supported it.

The debate at Governance Committee was ill-tempered and showed the new Leader of the Council in a particularly poor light as he became angry and rude about colleagues. The debate can be viewed online here.

Use of statutory processes

UNISON now has no choice but to fully use the statutory process available to us to force the council to recognise UNISON. The branch has lodged the request for recognition for the local annual pay award with the Central Arbitration Committee, a government body. The employer now needs to respond to that and we expect a decision within a short timeframe over the next few weeks.

UNISON sought and been given assurances by officers that WSCC will not attempt to impose or consult on the 2020-21 pay award until the matter of recognition is settled.

It remains the case though that only the very worst employers need to be dragged by trade unions to the Central Arbitration Committee. It is truly shocking that councillors prefers to keep their company than act voluntarily. WSCC needs to become a modern, twenty-first century employer, and it is truly held back if its ruling group think they are here to continue fighting the union-busting battles of the 1980s.

Important: what you can do

It is possible that the Central Arbitration Committee will wish to see evidence of the workforce’s consent to UNISON bargaining pay on its behalf. Therefore, we are asking the following of members on local pay:

  1. If you are contacted by the Central Arbitration Committee to ask if you agree to UNISON collectively bargaining your pay, please give them that positive assent. Do not ignore it: a non-response is not seen as positive assent. We need 40% of the group to take part in the process and a simple majority is not enough.
  2. Please share this webpage with colleagues you know are on local pay. Ask them to give positive assent too if they are contacted by the Central Arbitration Committee.
  3. Ask your colleagues to join UNISON. When we last checked in October 2019, our density of membership in the local pay group was 48%. We reported this figure to the Central Arbitration Committee in our application. 50% is enough for an automatic granting of recognition by the Central Arbitration Committee. This means we only need a few more colleagues to join UNISON. We also want more members because when recognition is granted, we need UNISON to be as strong as possible in order to ensure decent pay settlements for you. So there is every reason to join UNISON right now.

For 2020-21 UNISON will be seeking a local pay award which at least matches the NJC settlement. A branch ballot commences for NJC members on their 2.75% employer’s offer later this week.

Members can get in touch if you have any questions or suggestions,