More problems for Bristol City Council’s beleaguered and failing Director of Workforce, John “Bedwetter” Walsh?
However, as further oppressive practices and anti-union activity against council staff by Tory-boy bully boy Bedwetter and his HR team emerges, a question arises. Is Bedwetter actually the Reverend Rees and his administration’s personal workforce enforcer? Employed on a handsome six-figure salary to shaft the council’s workforce?
The evidence from a leaked letter from Unison suggests Bedwetter is no maverick looney but, instead, is implementing an agreed suite of right wing employment policies on the instructions of his political masters. Read this letter to Labour councillors from the Secretary of the Bristol Branch of Unison and weep:
It is a matter for regret for me that the links between this council’s senior union branch and the city’s Labour Party are as wafer-thin as they are and I suppose it is not going to get better anytime soon. However, in the hope of getting a better deal for our members, I still need to try to steer discussion to somewhere that coincides with our priorities and matches your aims and objectives. Here are some matters of concern for us.
Yes, we are setting up some sort of work programme with Helen regarding the sick pay situation for care workers that work for organisations contracted by the council. The latest news on this was welcome. However, the mere fact of outsourcing has at best coincided, and at worst has led to, reductions in what we think are basic protections for staff who, ultimately, work for an organisation that is led by the Labour Party.
So, regardless of efforts to improve the sick pay for care staff we still have Bristol Waste who mostly do not receive occupational sick pay (some might have it because of TUPE) and who have suffered loss of pay over this trying period. Some are scared rigid putting themselves in danger each day; and we now see further moves to set up arms-length organisations (or contract out) where terms and conditions are pegged only to legal minimums.
There seems to be an accepted view that the public sector cannot run services as efficiently as arms’ length companies and contractors. We disagree with this. But even if we accepted your privatising agenda there should be no reason to suppose that a Labour administration making these decisions would not protect and uphold decent standards for those organisations’ staff.
We stand for public services delivered by local government and it is within local government that decent standards can be maintained for staff (notwithstanding the problems being faced by council staff). In English law, labour protections are so small and regulation is so light that organisations that proudly say that they are upholding legal standards are really only upholding basic just-above-poverty entitlements.
The unions have struggled to lift people from poverty but there is a constant traction that draws wages down to minimum wage and reduces other benefits such as redundancy pay to statutory minimums. Management made an “offer” two years ago whereby we saw no tangible offer to compensate us for a loss of redundancy pay. We balloted and rejected it, but we shouldn’t have had to if there had been someone at a senior level who was prepared to stick up for ordinary staff. Decent redundancy pay does two things: it compensates the staff member and makes the employer think more carefully before letting people go, which is what we in the Labour movement should be supporting, not undermining.
Our staff are frustrated because they know they can deliver in-house (they already are) and are worried about being spun out to another third-party organisation where the risk of failure can appear as likely as it was before. Please see my points about outsourcing and sick pay above. UNISON remains opposed to TUPE transfers and outsourcing. This position was not decided on by this branch but by conference and is the national position of the union.
It is not my place to put pressure on you to find someone not guilty but I respectfully request that you listen to the evidence and make a just decision. I have, however, been placed in farcical situations that were unjust. The last time was before three Labour councillors.
Under the heading ‘appeals’ ‘what you can do in the hearing’ on the Acas website is ‘present new evidence if you have it’. It can be found here for you to check for yourself: https://www.acas.org.uk/appealing-a-disciplinary-or-grievance-outcome#:~:text=The%20right%20of%20appeal%20and%20the%20law%20The,them%20if%20the%20case%20goes%20to%20employment%20tribunal.
It goes on to say that employers should “look at new evidence, if there is any”. Unfortunately, Bristol City council’s position is that new evidence is not allowed at appeals and this was upheld by three Labour councillors – a position that is below the basic standards of Acas. It is fair to say I was taken aback. If we are not allowed to present new evidence what is the point?
Breach of Contract
With a section of our surveyors, management freely entered into a new contract, in writing, with our members to pay a ‘market forces supplement’ for between one and three years. A few months later, they then withdrew from that contract, which of course we are unwilling to allow them to do. We, alongside Unite the Union, have entered a dispute with BCC.
Management realising that this may end up in county court seem to have consulted a solicitor or two who know that they may be allowed to argue that three months wages is the award for breaking a contract such as this. We argue that it has a fixed term (at least one year) and we will see who wins.
In the meantime this places BCC’s commitment to honour its agreements in doubt. Again, it is not my role to press you to make decisions, but I want you to know that BCC is not a playground utopia for hard-leftists (as it is presented, I am told) but a battleground over basic bourgeois rights such as upholding a contract of employment.
Unilateral Policy Changes
I have been arguing for months now that BCC needs to put its policies back to the last position where it was agreed with the unions. HR are attempting to reduce our employment rights further. Management have insisted that none of this is part of our contract and they can do this but when it coincides with dismissal (and other matters such as appointments) then we have insisted it is and they can’t.
None of this is minor: the sickness policy now says that you no longer have to be taken through the warnings consecutively – they can jump straight to the last stage (and dismissal) if they want. And there are no longer minimum periods for consultations.
We recently saw a one-week consultation that led to a contract change, which means restructures can be rushed through. There are many more minor changes that staff relied upon to get fairness at work. I can’t find anyone who will admit to okaying any of this so why is it still up?
The number of complaints I have are much greater than what I have set out above, but further matters will have to come later. It is fair to say, I can’t understand why our members are under attack like this but we are now going to start campaigning over these issues.
Thanks, Tom Merchant, Branch secretary, Bristol UNISON