UNISONNews March 1998 (Archive)


John Mulgrew tells council budget meeting
Council jobs are council services

Branch service conditions coordinator John Mulgrew outlined UNISON's opposition to the council cuts in a submission to the council on 5 March.

"In setting its budget this year the Council set itself a number of priorities", said John. "These priorities were to protect front line services, and though we congratulate the Council and the Social Work Convener on avoiding closures of Children's Centres and Adult Training Centres, we feel we must point out that Council has failed in it's objectives" he added.

An objective was to protect front line education services. "We would remind Council that school meals are front line services in Education", said John.
The reduction in this service will result in hundreds of the lowest paid council workers facing redundancy.

"Council jobs are not bureaucracy - they are not red tape. Council jobs are Council services and a job cut is a service cut", he continued.

Whilst school meals and Leith Waterworld have dominated the coverage of this years budget we should not lose sight of the fact that this budget contains £28 million worth of cuts.

There are cuts in the Voluntary Organisations funded by the Council. In fact there are cuts in almost every area of service provision and many of these cuts will result in the loss of a service to the people of Edinburgh.

"We have consistently maintained the argument that a closure destroys that service permanently.

"It is time that this was recognised - it is time that the financial restrictions placed on Local Government were removed", said John

It was time that Central Government re-assessed it's priorities.

"Council Services are everybody's services and we say it again - Council jobs are Council Services."



Hot school meals hit first as £27 million is cut

600 jobs go as cuts bite

Edinburgh faces almost 600 redundancies, on top of 1,400 jobs already lost, after the council made £27 million in cuts this month. The voluntary sector will also face job losses as over half a million is cut from its funding.

300 UNISON members and service users lobbied the council on 5 March as the budget cuts went through. There was joy as childrens centres, the subject of closures for the last two years, were reprieved.

But that joy turned to sadness and anger as hot school meals were cut with over 300 redundancies and huge cuts were announced in recreation and across the council bringing 300 more jobs losses.

Speaking to the demonstration, joint branch secretary Morag Stevenson slammed the cuts; "Thousands of children will be without a hot meal and hundreds of dedicated staff will be sacked. It is a sad day when the council has to rescue its budget on the back of mainly low paid, part time women workers"

Douglas Black, joint secretary, said,

"Our members know there is no bottomless pit of finance. But they cannot understand why this government should wreck our services. It must act now to stop the damage. Rest assured we will take whatever action is necessary to fight compulsory redundancies".



Where the major cuts will fall

The biggest single jobs cut will be around 350 in school meals. The next is in recreation with possibly up to 200 but exact details were not available at the time of going to press.

"There is so much vagueness in the budget that I have written to heads of department asking for exact details of the staffing implications for all staff for each option", said John Ross, APT&C convenor.

There were hopes that around 100 of the recreation jobs, transferring to the new trust, might be saved through negotiation but details are still awaited.
Other areas listed in the initial redundancy notice which referred to 760 jobs, were:

Look out for bulletins in your department when the facts become clearer. - and keep us informed of any local developments.



AGM sets out plan for fighting redundancies

The branch AGM set out a five point plan for fighting redundancies.

Although not in this particular motion, the branch already has a policy on no cover for vacant posts.

"New national guidance has just come out on this and we must pursue 'no cover' as the most effective way of protecting staff from stress and drawing attention to the real effect of cuts", said Morag Stevenson, joint branch secretary.



School meals tragedy turning to farce

The tragedy of cutting hot school meals is rapidly becoming a farce as the real implications emerge - and as the first changeover is planned for 13 April.

"Our meeting with management has thrown up a whole catalogue of problems that have not been thought through", said george Lee, manual convenor.

Not least is the assumption that other staff will distribute the packed lunches while catering staff get the sack. In one area, two hours is being allowed for one person to hand out 300 packed lunches.

Some of the distribution runs could mean vans trying to get from one place to another in as little as two minutes. And it could be that there will have to be a £250,000 investment in refrigeration, especially if refrigerated vans are used.

If they are not, there would be the danger of food going off in the summer. "We want the whole process checked out by environmental health before it goes ahead", said George.

In the meantime bulletins are planned, along with other ways consulting such a widespread group of members.




Library staff fight wage cuts, longer hours

Libraries face sweeping changes as council cuts  look set to change opening hours and attack staff conditions. As we went to press,  Recreation stewards leaders were embarking on talks with management.

"Staff could end up losing 12.5% off their wages  or working longer hours, along with extra weekend working", said Amanda Kerr, joint Recreation convenor. "We have asked for talks with management and our first priority will be to  protect our members".



Janitorial review progress

Some progress has been made on the janitorial review but so much is outstanding that the 1 April deadline is unlikely to be met.

"We have secured agreements in principle on shifts in high schools, and some aspects of hours and wages but staffing levels are still being discussed", said Terry O'Donnell, service conditions officer.

With plans to put janitors on APT&C scales, the big problem is the working week with management still pushing for 40 hours at flat rate.

"There is no doubt that a review of the service is needed on financial and also health and safety grounds", said Terry.

"We are determined to come to an agreement that will protect and be a benefit to our members and the service".



UNISON Tackles MPs with 'piece-full' protest

Members from around Scotland lobbied MPs against local government cuts. at the Scottish Grand Committee in Edinburgh on 2 March

They gave MPs leaflets in cold 'pieces' (with their names on them "in case they lost them"), as a symbol of the loss of hot school meals in Edinburgh, just one example of cuts councils would be making.

The lobby came from a motion by Edinburgh UNISON to the union's Scottish Council the week before.

"We know the cuts arise from the scorched earth policy of the Tories", Edinburgh's John Stevenson told delegates. "Our members even partly understand why there was a two year commitment to the last government's cuts".

"But they do not understand why the government wants to weaken local councils, why we are heading back to the old 'cosy deal' days of a few councillors and officials handing contracts out to private business".

"We do not understand why you want to condone tax avoidance by setting up trusts, or why it is only now, under the new government, that we are facing compulsory redundancies", he added.

If MPs want local councils to have an important strategic role, if they want cheaper, more efficient services and if they want to include the public, they would have to throw a lifeline to local government.



Serious questions after legal advice on Leisure Trust

Initial legal advice from UNISON has confirmed there should be no discussions about changing conditions in the run up to the new Leisure Trust on 1 April.

The branch will insist that members transfer with full TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings) protection of conditions.

"If the Trust wants to argue for "economic, technical or organisational" reasons to be exempted from TUPE, then it will have try", said one officer.

"Serious questions are arising about the council's role in all this. How can it play both the transferrer and the transferee? Is the council committed to TUPE or not?", said John Stevenson, branch vice-chair.

"Did councillors intend the Trust to try to change staff conditions? - It is about time we had some straight answers about this".

The Trust's catering contract also raised these questions - and more.
In that case the Trust (that wasn't even in place yet) forced catering jobs out to a non-union employer, despite an exemption from tendering! Members were then approached to 'discuss' their conditions.

Councillors and officials said they were powerless to do anything about it.
George Lee, manual convener, is seeking further legal advice.



Are you insured for business?

UNISON has discovered instances where essential or casual users do not have proper 'business use' insurance cover.

This could cause major problems for members who may not be aware that a basic comprehensive policy is not enough.

It is worth noting that Frizzels, who offer discounts to UNISON members, have a special category for use on council business.



Edinburgh Road Services contract - it's a win and a half

Edinburgh Road Services won a contract late last year against one of the largest private contractors in the business. The contract was won for a three year period with a possible further extension for 2 years.

In cash terms, it is worth £4million a year (or £12million over the three year period).

Wattie Weir, Service Conditions Convener (Craft), told UNISON News,

"This is great news for our members. Successfully winning the contract means that employees no longer have the threat of TUPE transfer hanging over them and will remain fully employed with Edinburgh Road Services.

"I have sent a letter to the Edinburgh Road Services Manager, Ewan Kennedy, thanking him and all the managers and staff involved in the hard work they all put in to ensuring we won the contract. It's a win and a half."

Members have accepted a new target based bonus scheme after both union and management went round workplaces to consult members. Agreement has not been reached yet on sickness monitoring procedures.

Readers should note that Winter Weather Emergency is not included in the new contract, as Winter Weather Emergency was not part of the tender.



New officers improve fair representation for manual workers

The branch secretary post has been job-shared for the first time following February's AGM, and we now have 50-50 manual and APT&C in the service conditions officer posts.

Douglas Black and Morag Stevenson take over as joint secretaries with Gail Park moving into the assistant post.

Ex branch secretary John Stevenson moves to communications officer and vice-chair, graciously saying "there you go, it takes three of them to do what I was doing!"

Tracy Gilbert joins Charlie McInally in the service conditions officer posts with existing officers Agnes Petkevicius and Terry O'Donnell, making these posts 50% manual as well as being 50% women.

Joe Galletta steps in as chairperson with Gordon Barnett joining Danny Currie at Health & Safety.

First youth officer

The branch also has its first Youth Officer in Cameron Day.
Other posts, like coordinator John Mulgrew, and convenors George Lee, John Ross and Wattie Weir, are unchanged from last year. All officers are contactable via the branch office.



Letter: (on website only)

Breast cancer support questioned

Last October was Breast Cancer Awareness month. The City of Edinburgh Council is one of many public and private bodies to have given generous support to the Scottish Breast Cancer Campaign. I am led, however, to wonder just how genuine that support is.

I recently had the misfortune to fall victim to breast cancer, and underwent a lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I was on sick leave for seven and a half months. As an employee for the past sixteen years in the Education department, first of Lothian Regional Council and now of the City of Edinburgh, I was aware that my full salary would be paid for the first six months of sick leave, followed by six months of half pay.

I did not know, however, was not told, and only learned by accident when I had already been on sick leave for six and a half months, that my annual leave was to be abated. UNISON members beware! The Education Department of the City of Edinburgh Council exercises the policy of abatement after the first three months of absence.

This means that leave entitlement is reduced in proportion to the additional time absent on sick leave. In my own case, this meant that I was due to lose 15 days annual leave, and that no discretion would be exercised with regard to the nature of the illness, length of service or previous record.

I felt angry and upset not only by the way I was being treated, but also that such a policy should be practiced by my employers, not least in their role of supporting the Breast Cancer Campaign.

Although I had just returned to work and was still suffering from the psychological effects of my diagnosis, after consultation with Service Conditions Officer George Lee, I decided to invoke the grievance procedure.

I am happy to say that, thanks to excellent support from George, the decision to abate my leave was overturned. The principle, however, was not conceded as an unjust one. The decision was taken because investigations triggered by my grievance had uncovered inconsistencies within the Department, ie not all employees who had more than three months sick leave had had their annual leave abated.

I am told that other City of Edinburgh Council departments use discretion in deciding whether or not annual leave should be abated. I contend that is a more human attitude which should be adopted throughout Council departments.

For me, and I am sure for other employees who have suffered from the same disease, the City of Edinburgh Council's proclaimed support for the Breast Cancer Campaign has a hollow ring.

Sandra MacDougall



Theatre Trust a 'shambles'

Plans to put the Kings and Festival theatres out to a trust has been described by UNISON's John Ross as 'a shambles'.

"The staff don't know what's happening, patrons don't know and haven't been asked for their views and programming for next year is well nigh impossible", he said.

Under the plans, the Kings would only be open for 24 weeks a year.
The council has also turned a loan of £1million into a grant, "giving away potential income that could have been used to protect services".

The new Trust has refused to recognise UNISON (are we that good?) and will only recognise BECTU.

UNISON, at this stage, is trying to ensure 'get-outs' for our members.



Manual bonus scheme review

Moves are afoot to try to harmonise bonus schemes for manual workers locally, while a national working party is also looking at the issue.

A local study is under way in DLOs and DSOs. There are sometimes a number of schemes in operation in the same place.

"We will hear what management have to say, but our prime consideration will be protecting the earnings of our members", said Morag Stevenson, joint branch secretary.



Merger chaos predicted

Huge upheaval is under way as Corporate Services and Strategic Policy get ready to merge and Property Services gets farmed out to departments - just as a huge internal review has been completed!

Property needs a corporate overview and it is hard to see how this reorganisation will help. They couldn't be thinking of outsourcing?



Efficiency review threat to security

The council is looking at two options for security services, in-house or outsourced.

For efficiency, read false economy. Private firms may be cheaper but only because they pay poor wages.

But these jobs involve much more than security and we again face the danger of not comparing like with like.

"This is not just conditions under threat, it is a fundamental council service that is under threat", said UNISON's John Mulgrew.

UNISONNews understands that Social Work, Education and Libararies, they are uneasy about private security, preferring to do their own vetting of their own staff.



Diary in yer dinner, baby

UNISON and the council have a child care agreement - but does it work?
One department, has told a member she can breast feed at work, but can only confirm it with her the day before!

"If the council is prepared to come up with a policy, it surely has to make sure the measures are put in place to make it work", said Irene Stout, branch equalities officer.



On the negotiating line...

Sickness absence policy

In depth talks have started and the original proposals have been amended after approaches by UNISON.

"The old arrangements, especially in ex Lothian have been a source of many problems", said John Ross, "we now need a recognition from management that they have a responsibility to staff as well as to the service."

"It is important to get a good and fair procedure into place given the high level of sickness due to the stress of staff shortages", added John. "After all, the staff are the service".

Gail Park, assistant secretary, pointed to the unfairness of people being drawn into sickness absence hearings through no fault of their own.

"Members awaiting hip replacement, or operations like hysterectomies are at the mercy of NHS waiting lists, it is not their fault and management must start to recognise this", she said.

Smoking at work

A complete ban likely to be imposed in April, despite union calls for a more sensible and less high handed approach.

UNISON is looking at a number of measures to challenge the ban but is also pushing for packages to help people stop.

UNISON still does not see why smoking areas cannot be provided where that is possible

Car leasing/ Assisted car

Negotiations are about to start on two new harmonised agreements. Details will go out to stewards soon for full consultation. Make sure you get them.