Friday, 6 May 2011

Why Barnet Unison members are taking industrial action

I often think that it would be good if every Barnet resident could read the newsletter that goes out to Barnet council Unison members.

Yes, Barnet Unison secretary John Burgess has an axe to grind: he wants to keep his members in decent jobs. But, overwhelmingly, these people are not doing "non-jobs" and they are not all looking forward to "gold-plated" pensions. They are ordinary, decent people doing useful jobs that benefit all Barnet residents.

And John is a council tax payer too, so he too has an interest in not spending more of taxpayers' money than necessary! It is just obvious that you get better public services when they are delivered by accountable public authorities who aren't in it for a profit.

That's the health warning out of the way! I'm going to share a few simple explanations that John has sent out to members this week, which explain some of what is going on in Barnet council. First, why Barnet Unison members are taking industrial action.
The ‘Trades Dispute’ in relation to the One Barnet Programme

UNISON members should be aware that staff working in Regulatory Services have been taking part in industrial action for several weeks now, following a Trade Dispute being declared at the Corporate Joint Negotiation Consultative Committee (CJNCC) on 13 September 2010 where the Trade Unions registered a ‘failure to agree’ in relation to the One Barnet Programme (OBP).

Since then there have been a number of One Barnet projects all recommending privatisation of council services e.g. Parking, Support Services and Customer Call Centre. There are other projects following quickly behind.

It was clear back in July 2010 when the CJNCC agreed “that in-house bids would not be considered as part of the future shape of the programme.”

It is UNISON’s view that if in-house bids are not to be considered, the only conclusion which can be drawn is that the services are to be transferred to the private sector.

This will necessarily mean that the employment of individuals employed by the Council will at some stage transfer to a private sector employer. The Council would no longer be their employer.

Members of this union believe that a change in the identity of the employer to a private sector employer would involve a significant worsening of their employment position.

In particular, members are concerned that such a change in the identity of the employer would:

(i) lead to a diminution in job security in employment with a private sector employer, with less opportunities for re-deployment in the event of redundancy;

(ii) mean that there would be an increased risk that terms and conditions of employment would be reduced, for example in the event of restructuring;

(iii) mean that they would no longer be able to participate in the Local Government Pension Scheme; and

(iv) mean moving to an employer in whose employment there would not be the same opportunities for career development and advancement.

Members regard the identity of their employer as an important term of their contract of employment, and they do not want it to be changed. The trade dispute will continue until they are reassured that their terms and conditions are not to be changed through the transfer of their employment to the private sector.

The Trade Unions have been seeking to be involved in the OBP project and have submitted over 30 reports covering service improvement, options appraisal templates, transformational toolkits and a corporate procurement framework. The Trades Unions see the way forward as a re-consideration of the prospect of an in-house bid, with a full Options Appraisal being carried out.

UNISON is absolutely clear that the subject matter of the dispute relates to terms and conditions of employment. It relates to the identity of the employer of affected employees who are currently employed by the Council, and UNISON has already explained the reasons why its affected members wish to remain employed by the Council.

Barnet UNISON remains committed to genuine dialogue with the Council, we have not left the negotiating table.

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