Tag Archives: Equalities

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 unreasonable, 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.

Rotten Comrades: “Equalities Champions on the March!”

Human Resources have been in a flap recently. Not only has the issue regarding underpayment of “scores” of staff (see Smiter passim) been reaching boiling point but the fur has been flying regarding racial discrimination as well.

Now, I haven’t written much about racism in The BRISTOLIAN – if at all – but issues regarding race have cropped up from time to time at the council and have been painfully slow to resolve.

The fact that we have a black mayor, that we have a duty to promote equalities, that we have an old and well-organised community of BME citizens and that it is illegal to harass or discriminate on the basis of race should make it pretty unlikely that anyone will get away with doing that sort of thing at Bristol City Council. Or at least, if someone felt like engaging in a spot of racism they would, at least, hide it really well so that they wouldn’t get their arses kicked out of their jobs.

Well, it would seem some of our more dumber managers haven’t given it much thought and have carried out their innately resentful and hate-filled agendas anyway. So much so, they have attracted the attention of Bristol City Council’s equalities ‘self led groups’ who in turn have contacted HR and the Head of Paid Service, Mike “shh-mo” Jackson. “Scores” of incidents have been quoted as having taken place and very little has been done about them.

HR is not happy at this new source of interference in their strategy of keeping a lid on everything. This has been especially galling as they have spent years controlling, diverting, and in some cases “letting go”, the more uncontrollable middle-ranking trade union reps – what I call your experienced barrack-room lawyer. Instead, cultivating the more useless and amenable trade union reps into positions of high influence, where it can all be jolly-hockey-sticks and fluffy kittens.

Anyway, a new form of barrack-room lawyer – the equalities champion – has arisen, as if from nowhere, to pick up the baton the unions have dropped. A bit of competition can only help, don’t you think? The unions don’t like this at all. It is – at least theoretically – their patch. Well, our equalities champions want to know: why have the unions been ignoring desperate people with just grievances begging them for help?

And the answer seems to have come back: well, they didn’t fill in the right form and other such useless excuses. A “frank exchange of views” reportedly broke out after that. And then, when it was asked, why are the unions not supporting staff at stage one of the grievance process, Unison’s reply was: they weren’t sure they should be doing that anymore. The exchange of views got franker.

I’ve been told the equalities people came away with the impression that the unions were in some way compromised, which I think pretty much sums it up. Which is not to say that there aren’t good barrack-room lawyers in the unions – I could count ten or so across all of them – it’s just a waste of time seeking help from the unions if you are given the wrong rep, as sad as that might sound to all of us.

The underpayment scandal update.
I had actually drafted an article announcing that management had seen sense over this and done the right thing. But then it seems a lack of common sense had intervened at the last minute.

I was told that one of our better reps was ambushed in the Count’s Louse by some of our worst reps, on his way to deliver a list of names of people prepared to sue the Council over the underpayment scandal. Our protagonist’s opponents – the three stooges (as I like to call them) – were reported to have staged a Dick Turpin style corridor intervention where they made it clear our protagonist was showing them up and it was their case now.

Our hero cried out: ‘no justice, no peace’ and brushed them aside. But he was not quick enough – the three stooges made their own offer to HR based on the sort of insane formula made up by people who don’t know anything about contract law.

In essence, they screwed it up, making the sort of offer that led to HR leaning back and rolling their eyes into their heads. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, our useless, “rotten comrades” will now no doubt flap their arms about a bit before losing interest, thus letting our hero have another go.

Well, hopefully …