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 so 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.