Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Birmingham Against The Cuts - Another Productive Meeting

Last night was another very productive meeting of the Birmingham Against The Cuts group.

Budget Cuts

There was a lengthy report on the main features of the Council's £100m + cuts plan for 2012/3 including :

Adoption & Fostering - £1m cuts
Childrens Placements - £6.7m cuts. The consultation on the strategy has just closed.
Home Care & Adult Social Care Services - 118 home care jobs cut and a plan to privatise all adult care services
Shelforce - £2m cuts and jobs of disable workers threatened. Awaiting a Cabinet report
Adult Education - cuts of around 172 jobs threatened
Connexions - compulsory redundancies stopped but still up to £4m cuts
Leisure Centres - threatened with privatisation
Libraries - 28% cut in funding.

BATC is preparing a leaflet for the public highlighting 5 - 6 major areas of cuts around which we will be campaigning. There was discussion about preparing a Pledge which the public can send to their councillors about addressing the cuts in key areas.

We are also supporting a street protest in the city centre on the Chancellor's Budget Day, 21st March. We understand that PCS will be holding a protest too.

Connexions and Youth Unemployment

Charlie Friel, the UNISON Connexions convenor gave a report on the victory over threatened compulsory redundancies and the continuing financial cuts. He made really important point about the continuing need to campaign against youth unemployment. He said the the 16 - 24 year olds (a period of 8 years) have around 1.1 million unemployed. The remaining age range from 25 to 65 (40 years) have around 1.7 million unemployed. That's a startling reality check of the harsh effects of the crisis on a new generation of workers.

Privatisation of Leisure and Sports Services

Then we considered the £200 million Leisure and Sports services privatisation plan by the Council. People were genuinely outraged. The Handsworth BATC Group was quick off them mark in holding a protest stall outside Handsworth centre Saturday. They were amazed at the response from the public and quickly collected over 200 signatures to a petition opposing the privatisation.

Now BATC has asked all its local groups to hold a protest stall outside as many leisure centres as they can on Saturday 10 March. The details of local arrangements will be posted on the BATC website.


Local anti-workfare groups, including Right to Work and the UKUncut organisation are organising a series of events :

Saturday 3 March outside Poundland in Union Passageway, City Centre
Wednesday 7 March 7.00pm a Kings Heath Anti-Workfare meeting at the All Saints Centre
Thursday 29 March Public Meeting at the Council House

NHS Bill

BATC will be organising a protest outside the City Road Hospital after work on March 7th to coincide with the national lobby against the NHS Bill. City Road are making huge cuts in health service budgets.

Save Our Railways

BATC is supporting a public meeting in late May/early June organised by the rail unions to highlight planned cuts in rails services and the massive hike in rail fares.

Saltley Gate Commemoration

The West Midlands Anti Cuts Groups are planning a weekend of events to mark the 40th Anniversary of the Battle of Saltley Gate at the end of June, with a special performance of the Banner Theatre Saltley Gates show and a Saturday campaigning and organising conference.

Impact of Cuts Against the LGBT Community

One of our BATC members is researching the impact of cuts on the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community. He has already identified cuts to homeless people, many of whom are LGBT; changes to housing and other benefits; cuts in spending on HIV and health services for transgender people; and the return of discrimination along the lines of the hated Section 28 in Free Schools. BATC will support leaflets and campaigning for the Birmingham Pride events later this year.

Next Meeting - Monday 12th March, 6.30pm, Birmingham UNISON Branch Office

Thursday, February 16, 2012

PDRs, Trade Union Facilities, Future Plans for HR and Outsourcing of Customer Services

Yesterday, we had our regular fortnightly meeting with corporate HR representatives where we keep each other up to date with developments on the industrial relations front with the city council.

First item on the agenda was Pay Progression - or the outcome of the recent annual process for giving increments to staff based on the Performance and Development Review (PDR) system of measuring performance against objectives. This year just over a quarter (26%) of the 21,000 non-schools staff received an annual increment in pay because of their PDR score. This is a big drop from the previous year when it was around 50%.

We are gathering as much information as we can about the payment of increments for the council. In the meeting we were given information by Grade and by Directorate and some breakdowns by gender, ethnicity and disability status. However the information we had did not allow us to test whether there are any equality differences in those who got an increment and those who did not. We have asked for further information to be provided.

We also requested equality breakdowns for those who were set the higher scoring "challenging" objectives, which you need to have to have any real chance of getting an A or B score in the PDRs.

Furthermore, we have requested similar information on the distribution of the A to E scores by equality groupings. The A - E score is important not just for determining whether a member of staff gets an annual increment, but also accounts for around a quarter of the score used in the redundancy selection criteria which could make the difference between being made redundant or getting a new job in a restructuring exercise. We have very grave concerns about the fairness of the PDR system, and whether there is any hidden discrimination in the scores given.

Next we discussed the council's review of trade union facility time. There was a Scrutiny Review last year which recommended a review of facility arrangements. The Council informed us that they intended to give 6 months notice of withdrawal now from the current facilities agreements and to commence consultation about their replacement. We have huge concerns that this is putting a gun to our heads during the review period. We have suggested that the council talks with us within the review before giving notice of terminating the agreements so we can have some confidence about where we are heading. The outcome of the discussion is unclear. We hope they will listen to our concerns. This will be a test of how much confidence we can have of the outcome of this review. There will be terms of reference drawn up and another meeting in a fortnight.

Then we received a briefing about proposals for trading in HR services. They face a £4.5m cut in their £25m budget, over two and a half years, having cut 40% already. So they are proposing to identify core HR services which they will provide free to council Directorates and then to introduce a charging system for any additional work directorates may want from HR. They are also planning to sell HR services externally, probably through setting up an HR Wholly Owned Company (WOC) into which HR staff can be seconded for short periods, or for part of their working week to undertake work of chargeable external bodies. HR also propose to make use of small often sole trader consultancy firms on a short term basis to deal with any temporary increase in work from the internal and external charging system. The consultancy charges we were told would be equivalent to the salaries of internal staff.

This set of ideas is news to us. We will have to give serious thought to this. We oppose the use of management consultants in the council, which still costs millions of pounds a year. And we feel there is enough internal expertise and enough people with these skills being threatened with redundancy. And we are worried about the WOCs. Are these a first step towards even more privatisation ?

Finally we had an update on the Customer First business transformation process, which at this point in time involves attempts to transfer various groups of staff dealing with calls and contact from the public to Capita's Birmingham Call Centre. If it moves, Capita wants to take it over and make a profit out of it. We are resisting all these privatisations and also attempting to negotiate the best terms for our members where we are unsuccessful in stopping them.

On interesting case in point is the Older Peoples Access Service which handles enquiries about adult social services. The council wants to transfer them to Capita. But we and the OPAS staff are standing in the way of the steam roller. In recent weeks, the consultation has been suspended by management. It appears that they are re-examining the financial and business case for the transfer. We are insisting on seeing the draft contract for the Capita service, the business case and all the documentation required for any TUPE transfer or TUPE/secondment arrangement. We are told that the option of seconding staff to the Capita service is still possible. We and the staff of the service are fighting for this, if we cannot stop the privatisation.

The OPAS service is one of the most critical and sensitive public services to be considered for transfer to Capita. The calls they deal with from the public about adult social care can be very complex and sophisticated. They are often responding to people who are going through huge crises in their lives and those of the people they are caring for. They need the greatest sensitivity, understanding and expertise. What we don't want is a privatised call centre but a caring public service.

So this was just one of our regular meetings, but all the issues addressed are fundamental to our members and to our services.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Response To Stefan Cross Solicitors Over Equal Pay

Recently, a letter was sent out by Stefan Cross solicitors in Birmingham essentially claiming that UNISON and its legal representatives had failed to represent members effectively in Equal Pay cases in the city. This is not accurate so we are writing to set the record straight.

By now many members who are equal pay claimants will have received a letter from UNISON’s solicitors informing them of the current position.

UNISON will not recommend that members settle claims for the unsatisfactory amounts that have been offered by the City Council and is currently in negotiations with the City Council on this issue. If Birmingham City Council fails to make adequate offers then the union is prepared to pursue cases through the Employment Tribunals.

Where the union has had to take legal action elsewhere it has been successful in obtaining favourable outcomes on behalf of members and we are determined that the same will apply in Birmingham.

My colleague Mark Rose is putting together a newsletter for members just to remind people about the huge amounts of work which has been undertaken by the branch and all other levels of the union on equal pay in the city. This union and Birmingham branch especially has a proud record of getting very good results for members on equal pay. It is time to get that message out loud and clear.

Graeme Horn
Joint Branch Secretary

Connexions Fightback Stops Compulsory Redundancies

We heard the most fantastic news today. The threat of compulsory redundancies for Birmingham Connexions staff has been withdrawn. They will not be going through the redundancy selection process which was due to start at the end of February.As the staff notice from the Acting Lead Officer for Connexions says "no further redundancies from our service are required at this stage".

Just last week we were steeling ourselves to re-commence the lobbying process to defend Connexions members from compulsory redundancies for a second year running. In the city council's budgetary Section 188 notice for the cuts for the next financial year, they threatened to cut 105 out of 172 full time equivalent posts.

Now management has announced that through various means, including voluntary redundancies and redeployment elsewhere, they will be able to avoid compulsory redundancies. There is even agreement that the service can carry on with a projected £870,000 overspend on a £3.8 million budget.

There will still be terrible service cuts, with the closure of offices in Northfield, Yardley and Erdington. And the service will be a targetted one, not a universal one anymore. We continue to oppose these cuts in service and the drastic impact these will have on a generation of young people in the city who are facing the worst conditions in living memory to enter the jobs market.

BUT without the opposition of our stewards committee in Connexions, the Connexions staff themselves, our campaigning allies in Birmingham Against The Cuts and all those who have supported the Save Connexions campaign, the cuts would have been far, far, worse.

This is a victory for those who have been prepared to take industrial action, to take round petitions, to hand out leaflets to the public, to lobby their councillors, to march on the Council House, to speak at meetings throughout the city, to give endless interviews to the media and above all to never give up.

So well done Connexions stewards and members and thanks to all who have supported them.

We do not just stop there. There are always more threats to follow. The Government is washing its hands of its responsibilities towards careers advice for young people. Future funding will need to come more from cash-strapped schools. But we retain our union organisation within Connexions and the Connexions members have another well-earned victory under their belts.

We need to continue to make the case for the restoration of Connexions. The Council has a vital role to support tens of thousands of young people in the city. We cannot abandon young people to a future on the dole.

Graeme Horn
Joint Branch Secretary

Sunday, February 12, 2012

For Sale - Birmingham's Leisure and Sports Facilities

The City Council has just announced a £200m privatisation process covering all the sports and leisure facilities in Birmingham. They have put a notice in the Official Journal of the EU seeking companies to come forward by 12 March 2012 if they would like to submit at an unspecified later date a tender to design, build, repair, refurbish, finance, operate or maintain any group of the council’s sports and leisure facilities. Staff working for these services may be transfered to the private companies winning the contracts, under TUPE.
The list of current services covered by the contracts include, but are not limited to :
— Alexander Stadium,
— Beeches Pool,
— Billesley Indoor Tennis Centre,
— Castle Vale Pool,
— Cocks Moor Wood Leisure Centre,
— Erdington Pool,
— Fox Hollies Leisure Centre,
— Handsworth Leisure Centre,
— Harborne Pool and Fitness Centre,
— Kingstanding Leisure Centre,
— Linden Road Leisure Centre,
— Moseley Road Pool,
— Nechells Sports Centre,
— Newtown Pool,
— Northfield Leisure Centre,
— Saltley Leisure Centre,
— Shard End Leisure Centre,
— Small Heath Leisure Centre,
— Shenley Court,
— Sparkhill Pool and Leisure Centre,
— Stechford Cascades,
— Stockland Green Leisure Centre,
— Tiverton Road,
— Wyndley Leisure Centre.
The first contract to be awarded through this framework will be the design, build, operate and maintain contract in relation to Sparkhill Pool and Fitness Centre.
So the battle is now on to save our sports and leisure services from the hands of the profiteers.
To fight this, we will be adopting our ‘organising’ approach to build up strong local workplace organisation in the Leisure services concerned. And with this we will establish close working relationships in a joint campaign with service users and the general public.
This battle will be won through our members (and the new members who really now should join the union) and our service users taking responsibility for their futures and their services. 
We need a steward or a workplace contact in every leisure and sports centre. We need lots more members to help those stewards and workplace contacts with the work that needs to be done - building up a map of all of our services and the workforce; contacting every person that works in a leisure or sports centre to encourage them to join the union and then to get active in the campaign to save our services; spreading the word to service users and the public.
We have committed, energetic and experienced branch and leisure services section officers who can start off the campaign. We have a nucleus of established stewards who can support and mentor new workplace representatives. We have the resources to develop the publicity needed by a city wide campaign.
We have a well developed community anti-cuts group, Birmingham Against The Cuts. They have set up many local BATC groups in different neighbourhoods around the city. In small ways this is paying off. The BATC groups have stopped the closure of Charles House (a respite unit for disabled children) and may soon force the re-opening of Merrishaw Day Nursery. Where we have had a strong local campaign, the council has backed off.
But every mass campaign starts with a lot of people all prepared to do small simple things to help. Put that together and you have a force to be reckoned with.
So what can you do ? 
  • Join our union and our campaign. 
  • Come to a members meeting on the privatisation threat. 
  • Ask your colleagues to join in. 
  • Make sure your workplace has a steward or a workplace contact.
We’ll be preparing publicity and petitions for the general public. We’ll be organising for our members to speak to, write to or to lobby the councillors and the MPs in the city. We will be fighting this privatisation. With your support, we can win this.

Graeme Horn
Joint Branch Secretary

Friday, February 10, 2012

Birmingham Trade Unionists Smash Government Pay Freeze

Today I had the honour of taking the Branch Banner to the 40th Anniversary Rally to celebrate the closing of Saltley Gates on 10th February 1972.

In case there are any members of the Tax-Avoiders Alliance reading this, I should say that this was on my day off - as a part-time worker I do these things in my own time.

It was a really moving event with speeches from trade unionists who were there at the time, and especially from Arthur Scargill, still in fine form and as uncompromising as ever.

pastedGraphic.pdfIn 1972 I was still at school and not even in Brum. But I do vividly remember the impact of the strike and the victory for the NUM on us all as trade unionists for decades onwards.

1972. A conservative government in power, with inflation raging tried to introduce pay restraint.

In 1972 the conservative Heath Government was trying to restrain pay increases and was later to introduce a pay freeze. They also sought to restrict trade unions taking industrial action through the Industrial Relations Act passed in the Autumn of 1971. Under this, a National Industrial Relations Board had the power to make strikes illegal and force the acceptance of settlements.
The TUC campaigned against the legislation with a nationwide "Kill the Bill" campaign. On 12 January 1971 the TUC held a 'day of action' in protest, with a march through London. In March, 1,500,000 members of the Amalgamated Engineering Union staged a one day strike. After the bill received royal assent, in September 1971 the TUC voted to require its member unions not to comply with its provisions (including registering as a union under the Act). The TGWU was twice fined for contempt of court over its refusal to comply. However, some smaller unions did comply and 32 were suspended from membership of the TUC at the 1972 congress.
The miners started their first national strike since 1926 on 5 January 1972 over the issue of pay. For a month they picketed power stations, and particularly Saltley Coal Depot in Birmingham. On the 9th February, the Government declared a State of Emergency. A three day week was introduced.
But trade unionists across the country had had enough of these attempts to starve the miners back to work. A call went out to Close The Gates at Saltley and 30,000 Birmingham trades unionists, mostly engineering workers, went on strike. 10,000 marched to Saltley Gates and forced them to close.
Ten days later, the Government backed down and a negotiated settlement was agreed with the NUM. The miners got a fair wage for the first time ever.
So much for history. Those days are long gone.
A Conservative Government freezing pay whilst inflation rises. Legislation to make it harder for trade unions to fight back with industrial action. Mass TUC demonstrations in London. Union members taking united strike action together. Surely that could never happen again !
But as Arthur said in 1972 and again today : Birmingham trade union members have demonstrated a great truth that when they unite together, nothing can stand in their way.

Graeme Horn
Joint Branch Secretary

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Are You the 1 in 10 ?

I have spent the last few days on an intensive training course on branch organising, part of our Birmingham organising campaign. I can't remember the last time I was able to set time aside for such training. I am always too busy fighting fires to stop and look at why there are so many fires breaking out.

This has been a very practical and fundamental look at how we can organise more effectively. I can hear members silently commenting about 'effective union organisation' just as Gandhi did to a reporter who asked what he thought about Western Civilisation - "It would be a good idea" !

The truth is, in my view, we have come well past the limits of what we can achieve through the super-hero 'servicing' model whereby many, if not most, members expect to have immediate, expert, individual representation when something goes wrong and for 'the union' to solve all their problems for them. A bit like 'Ghostbusters' - who you gonna call ?

Don't get me wrong, we still need to give good representation when needed. But now it is not just grievances and disciplinaries for a small percentage of members we have to service. We also have dozens of restructuring and job cutting exercises, thousands of members facing the possibility of redundancy, thousands losing pay under the new contract, as well as many worried they might be asked to change work location or working hours, many schools becoming Academies, transfers of services to private companies or social enterprises, to name but a few.

Just about everyone understandably has a major concern or issue. We all need our union.

The answer is, I believe, a fundamental change to the way we approach the union. We need to work towards building up strong active workplaces, with a high union membership and where management can see the members are actively involved and prepared to stand up for themselves and each other. Our greatest strength is our being a group, a collective, and a force to be reckoned with - if we work together. A union is not the Fifth Cavalry riding to the rescue, but a means by which we organise ourselves together to defend ourselves. That's the way to carry real weight with management. They may be strong, but we are many !

That's what we have been looking at on the course.

One small but powerful development in this direction of travel is to get more direct contact with our many hundreds of workplaces across the city.

How about becoming one of the '1 in 10' ? Would you be prepared to become a workplace contact ? Who would for example on occasions talk to 5 or 10 of their colleagues about a union issue - say about "what do you think about the pensions offer" or "what do you think people would be prepared to do to make the PDR system operate more fairly". And then feedback the views and information to the branch. We wouldn't ask you to do too much, talking to 5 or 10 people would be a great help.

It wouldn't necessarily take much time and effort but it would greatly strengthen our links to our membership. It would be a small but significant step towards becoming a union which really listens and relates to our membership as a whole.

Think about it and contact us if you would be prepared to do a little to help build up our local union organisation where you work. Be one of the '1 in 10' !

Graeme Horn
Joint Branch Secretary