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Don’t know if you spotted the ‘ding dong’ about Brains electoral bung to charities in his ward playing out bizarrely over the Bristol Posts letters pages. As Labs member on the port authority he is entitled to a fair old whack of cash why ‘by convention’ is donated to the Lord Mayors fund (as has been done for many years). Seems as if he’s paid the whole lot out to charities in his own ward. Electioneering perchance, who knows.
THIS IS AN ARTICLE NOT A COMMENT, PLEASE DO THE NECESSARIES, THANKS COMRADES!
Rotten Comrades: Disability, Part One
By the Dwarf
I had no idea that two weeks after my last article about the (bad) experience of (quite a few) black and ethnic minority staff that the council would hold a ceremony celebrating the council’s, er, success in supporting people from marginalised backgrounds (otherwise known as the ‘Stepping Up’ program). I might not have helped.
So it is with that recognition that I am hoping that the council aren’t about to announce some sort of ceremony celebrating the Council’s success in supporting people with disabilities, because today – hold on to your hats – I have quite a few things to say about how the Council treats its disabled staff, too.
The Council is bad on disability. Its worst offender is Adult Social Care (the “caring” profession), but other departments get a dishonourable mention as well. It’s not always the manager’s fault, because sometimes they want to help their staff, but pressure from more senior managers and woeful advice from HR makes it inevitable that staff don’t get the help they need.
Let’s be clear about this: the employer MUST make reasonable adjustments to help disabled staff overcome organisational, operational and physical obstacles. The Council – or at least its managers – treat any adjustment that requires them spending any of their budget on it, as un-reasonable, which is quite wrong.
So what happens is that a person who has deteriorated in physical or mental ability takes some time off – perhaps they have an operation or a spell recovering from a breakdown of some kind. They consult their doctor who says, ‘I’ll write you a fit note saying you must have light duties. Here you go, they have to give it to you – it’s the Equality Act 2010.’
Except, when that person does return to work they get told: ‘we don’t have light duties.’ So the staff member goes back on the sick. They don’t have any choice, they have a disability, they aren’t as able as they were before.
A few months later, the sick pay has run out, management have popped round twice and very nicely, over a cup of tea and a digestive, given you a level one and then a level two ‘notice of unacceptable attendance’ and you have to go back to work or face ruin. The HR adviser was a very nice woman who nodded whenever you spoke and frowned in all the right places.
That HR adviser is the one who will tell you, when you get back, that because of ‘the needs of the business’ there are no light duties and that we will now need to give you a ‘stage three final review of attendance’. You reply that there is always paperwork that needs doing, or perhaps it is just visiting people’s homes that you can’t do anymore and perhaps you could do triage instead? And why are you giving me a stage three when I have done what you wanted and come back to work? But the answer is no and the stage three is just policy.
One of three things happen next: you go back to work on their terms and have a fall; you go back on the sick and they hold the stage three in your absence, dismissing you; or you phone the union and try and get what is supposed to be an ethical employer to accept its responsibilities.
There is another pitfall that unwary staff fall into that the employer is only too happy to lay. If there are no adjustments that can reasonably be done – and scepticism would be my default position on this – then medical redeployment is a reasonable adjustment. What if there are no suitable jobs? What if I get no help? Well, at the end of the redeployment, if you haven’t found another job you are then on the dole.
What sort of impairments are we talking? Cancer, musculo-skeletal injuries, fibromyalgia, depression, macular degeneration – those sorts of things. All serious and all debilitating unless you get the support you need to work with less pain; happy and productive in your occupation. You may have seen them struggling their way around City Hall, terrified of being managed out of the business.
It didn’t use to be like this. In the old days, if you had seen better days your manager would’ve done his best to look after you. Something bitter and hard-hearted has happened to the Council.
THIS AN ARTICLE NOT A COMMENT – PLEASE DO THE HONOURS, COMRADES. NO WAR BUT THE CLASS WAR – SIGNED DEEP THROAT
ROTTEN COMRADES: Manoeuvring People Out of Their Jobs and Then Buying Their Silence
By The Dwarf
I’ve been watching for some time Bristol City Council’s war against its own staff, but it becomes particularly vicious in light of the coronavirus situation. The suppression of our black whistle-blowers continues apace and the dismissal and downgrading of our disabled staff has been made worse by the pandemic because there aren’t any safe roles to be redeployed into. But nonetheless, BCC won’t let an impossible job market get in the way of following an unethical and discriminatory policy to the bitter end, no matter how illegal it is.
I’ve written at length about this (see Smiter passim). The message, I think, has got through but they sadly have no shame and continue down the same road anyway. There is one member of the cabinet who is genuinely interested in these affairs and has tried to rectify these problems but the chain of command is so long it becomes like a game of Chinese whispers. Instructions and queries are garbled on the way down and replies obfuscated on the way up. When reports are written (for example, the workforce survey which jumped across the management chain and informed leaders directly) the facts are obfuscated by legal agreements that prevent disclosure and therefore the reasons for staff unhappiness aren’t shown.
And here we come to the nub of it. Bitter disputes between management and staff (grievances, disciplinaries and capability hearings) are being hidden by settlement agreements that have non-disclosure clauses. This means that if BCC discriminates against a member of staff and gets its chequebook out no one can talk about it. This situation often happens when staff reach the point where appeals have failed and they are left with the option of either taking a settlement or going to court. You can’t blame them for settling when the council starts writing a cheque that equals what they would expect in court but without all the stress, but the process prevents the leadership of the organisation from seeing staff being manoeuvred into their predicament and then being bought off. The council is buying the silence of people it victimises.
So, even if a discriminatory event takes place that has been identified (like manoeuvring out most of the black staff from a department during a restructure and then making it impossible to stay at your own grade if you manage to hang on in there) any subsequent agreement not to go to court about it can’t be talked about. So we can’t learn from it. So the narrative that there was no discrimination at all is maintained and black staff, apparently, weren’t “a cabal” as reported. (You know who you are.)
Of course our black staff aren’t the only ones who are frightened, because our disabled, sick and older staff are too. It’s quite clear that quite a few of our staff are clinically vulnerable to the coronavirus (BCC used to be disability-friendly) and have shielded. Except a lot of these instructions to shield were rescinded. Some have cancer, some have heart conditions or hypertension and others have diabetes. Others have family members with the same sort of impairments and need to shield for their sake. When the instruction not to shield (unless you matched very strict criteria) came in, the staff phoned in sick and got a doctor’s note because they were in danger. BCC is now having sickness absence hearings for these people (some of which are the last stage, stage three). They promised not to penalise people who were sick because of coronavirus and they have gone back on this promise. How I really feel about this behaviour is just not reportable.
All of this is led by a well-motivated, well-organised human resources team. They enable the worst excesses of managers and provide custom-crafted tool-kits for those managers to demote, redeploy, harass and dismiss staff who do little more than stand up for statutory rights such as whistle-blowing and protecting themselves from danger.
It’s about time HR was reorganised. Hopefully they can then get a taste of their own medicine.