Advice to branch members on First Care

Branch secretary Sue Beatty has issued the following statement for members employed by Brighton & Hove City Council:

Dear UNISON Member and Colleague

As you know UNISON Brighton & Hove branch has been advising our members over the last several months in regard to the Council’s decision to use a private (profit-making) company called First Care as part of the reporting sickness absence procedure.  Over this time, UNISON (and GMB) has been meeting regularly with senior HR Managers to discuss this concerning issue as well as  discussing changes being made to the Attendance Management Procedure itself.

The rationale being used by BHCC for bringing in First Care is apparently that some managers are not very good at recording sickness absence and because of this the Council have no clear picture of the real situation regarding staff absence, as well as the financial need for sickness to reduce due to the rising costs associated with this.  There is also the concern that due to some managers not engaging in the return to work process for an employee, staff are not getting the support they should be.  UNISON does not dispute this being an accurate reflection of the current situation; however, we dispute the need to spend 238k over the next two years on a company who are interested only in making money from the public sector.  We are concerned also as to how they will successfully provide a solution to the issue of sickness absence.  We are still not aware of what benchmark is being set by the Council in terms of this contract being “successful”.  First Care have said they can reduce absence by up to 15%.  We are asking the Council at what stage would they deem the contract unsuccessful if 15% is not achieved but a lower percentage was, i.e. 9%

Whilst UNISON has no problem in supporting Council processes to reduce absence   by putting the employee first in terms of giving them the necessary support and help they may need, what we cannot and will not do is support a process whereby a private company will be the first port of call for an employee to contact when they are going to be taking sickness absence.  We cannot support a private company who does not have the well-being of our members at the heart of their business.  This has always been the biggest problem for UNISON in regard to how sickness absence is viewed by BHCC and bringing in a private company whose whole purpose is to reduce absence as their goal is not, we believe, the right way forward.  The company may well reduce absence but at what cost to our member’s health and well-being?  Many questions asked of BHCC around this organisation and how it achieves (or not) have been left unanswered and to date, UNISON has no reason to believe our opinion should change.

Members and non members in vast numbers are contacting us here at the branch on this issue and the over-riding concern is around their need to share medical information with First Care and their reluctance to do so, particularly in regard to staff with underlying medical conditions, which need to be treated with confidentiality and sensitivity.  At the start of our negotiations with BHCC it was clear that staff were expected to call First Care to report their absence and to then speak with a Nurse over the phone to be “triaged” and offered advice.  Our advice to members at this time was to not co-operate with this company when it became live.

However, two recent pieces of information have now been shared with us; BHCC have agreed after much discussion with the unions, that staff will not be expected to engage with any of the (medical) staff when calling First Care if they so choose.  Staff are however instructed from the launch date to call First Care, instead of your manager,  to notify your sickness absence.  As an instruction by your employer, it has been clarified to the unions that failure to do so could result in disciplinary action being taken against you.  Clearly this would be a sledgehammer approach but one which has been made clear to us as an option for BHCC to take should staff not engage in the reporting process.

Clearly UNISON does not wish to see any staff in such a situation as being disciplined and so I have needed to consider how best our members can be protected from such a situation.  To this end and having discussed this with our  representatives at Branch Committee, I feel that the following would be a way forward which would protect your position but would not require you to engage in any discussion on your medical situation at all.  Of course, this is advice….UNISON cannot insist that any member act as advised below below and if at any point staff did find themselves in a disciplinary situation, we would of course provide the necessary support, representation and advice to our members.

So, if staff call First Care, talk to one of the Call Centre staff, giving their name and workplace and stating they are off sick and will not be at work for however long (in the same way as you would explain this to your manager currently),  when they ask you if you wish to discuss your health issues/needs with a Nurse, you are quite within your right to refuse this as BHCC have confirmed with UNISON that this is not mandatory.  This means you are complying with the request to report your absence but are not having to engage in any discussion around your health issue unless you choose to do so.  If there are indeed staff who are willing and happy to take up this offer then of course they are free to do so.

This will mean however that if staff do not comply fully with what is on offer (i.e. medical advice/triaging etc) then how successful the organisation will be in bringing down absence remains to be seen!

We believe the above advice protects our members from any negative action taken by the employer but also provides the assurances that staff will not have to share any info or discuss any of their health issues if they don’t want to.  I am however, very happy to receive comment or consider other ideas if staff feel that what has been advised is not possible for them to work with.

I have no doubt that as this “service” progresses problems may surface and UNISON will, of course, keep you abreast of things as they happen.

This e-mail is being sent out to all our members for whom we have been given an e-mail address and who have given their permission for us to use it by supplying it to us.  Please share this around with colleagues if you feel others have not received this e-mail.   Please encourage colleagues to supply us with their personal e-mail address or agreement to send e-mails to their BHCC e-mail address so that we can circulate more widely. We are also putting a copy of this e-mail onto the UNISON bulletin board on the Wave and on our local website which is

Finally, it would be really helpful for us here at the branch to receive feedback in regard to using First Care to report absence.  If any of you feel you would like to provide this, at any time, please get in touch with me via e-mail.

With best wishes to you all and many thanks for your patience and support of UNISON in this matter

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Join the march for the NHS!

GATHER AT 11am on The Level, Brighton.
Move off 11.30. Rally 12.30 outside Labour Party
Conference, Brighton Conference Centre BN1 2GR
Caroline Lucas MP; Lloyd Russell Moyle MP;
Louise Bray-Allen, Nurse and a Unite speaker
END OF MARCH RALLY John McDonnell MP Shadow Chancellor;
Dr Alex Scott-Samuel SHA; Danielle Tiplady, Nurse and
“Scrap the Cap” campaigner; Youssef el Gingihy GP and
NHS campaigner; Speaker from Bart’s hospital dispute;
Louise Irvine GP and health campaigner; Trade Union speakers.©2017
Oppose the government’s Sustainability and Transformation
Plans and the £22 billion cut in the national NHS budget
(equivalent to approx 20% of annual spend).
Show solidarity with NHS workers, working under extreme
pressures of government cuts and staff shortages, to keep
the NHS going.
Support the national “Scrap the Cap (in public sector pay)”
campaign. Stop the scandal of NHS and other public sector
workers forced to use food banks. Return their lost income.
Reject the privatisation of our NHS and other public services.
Support the NHS (Reinstatement) Bill and the
Call for urgent action by the Labour party on manifesto
promises to oppose government plans, cuts and
privatisation of the NHS.
Demand urgent action by Local Authorities and the
government to deal with the crisis in social care.

Spread the word about the march and rally to everyone
you know.
Insist your political and trades union organisations support
NHS workers. (Motion on our website).
Promote the event on social media.
Ask friends and family to do the same.
Leaflet your street or block (email us to get hold of flyers).
Lobby and write to your local MP and councillors.
(Model letters on the website).
Organise a Save the NHS meeting in your neighbourhood.
We can supply speakers and resources.
Contact details:

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Unison at Pride


Unison was delighted to be part of the Brighton and Hove Pride event on 5th August.

Members and supporters joined the parade in a specially commissioned bus, cheered on by the 300,000 people who lined the route.

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UNISON legal victory sees employment tribunal fees scrapped

Supreme Court verdict follows four-year fight by union and is a victory for everyone in work

Employment tribunal fees will be scrapped after UNISON won a landmark court victory against the government this morning. 

The Supreme Court – the UK’s highest court – has unanimously ruled that the government was acting unlawfully and unconstitutionally when it introduced the fees four years ago.

From today, anyone who has been treated illegally or unfairly at work will no longer have to pay to take their employers to court – as a direct result of UNISON’s legal challenge.

 The government will also have to refund more than £27m to the thousands of people charged for taking claims to tribunals  since July 2013, when fees were introduced by then Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling.

Anyone in England, Scotland and Wales wanting to pursue a case against their employer has had to find as much as £1,200. This has been a huge expense for many low-paid employees, says UNISON.

Reacting to this morning‘s decision, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The government is not above the law. But when ministers introduced fees they were disregarding laws many centuries old, and showing little concern for employees seeking justice following illegal treatment at work.

Read the full Supreme Court judgement in
R (on the application of UNISON) v Lord Chancellor

 “The government has been acting unlawfully, and has been proved wrong – not just on simple economics, but on constitutional law and basic fairness too.

 “It’s a major victory for employees everywhere. UNISON took the case on behalf of anyone who’s ever been wronged at work, or who might be in future. Unscrupulous employers no longer have the upper hand.

 “These unfair fees have let law-breaking bosses off the hook these past four years, and left badly treated staff with no choice but to put up or shut up.

“We’ll never know how many people missed out because they couldn’t afford the expense of fees. But at last this tax on justice has been lifted.”

 UNISON assistant general secretary Bronwyn McKenna added: “The Supreme Court correctly criticised the government’s failure when it set the fees to consider the public benefits flowing from the enforcement of legal rights enacted by Parliament.  

 “The effective enforcement of these rights is fundamental to parliamentary democracy and integral to the development of UK law. UNISON’s case has helped clarify the law and gives certainty to citizens and businesses in their everyday lives.”

 The decision marks the end of a four-year fight by UNISON to overturn the government’s introduction of fees.

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Unison responds to outrageous allegations made by Tory councillors

Dear Councillor Janio and Wealls,

I hope this finds you well.

I have read, with dismay but interest, the article in The Evening Argus  (Mon 17th July 2017) “New Funding to take Pressure off Park Staff”.

It is stated that your group is concerned around some of the 600,000k budget underspend being spent  on “more support” for the unions and as a bribe to keep the unions quiet after recent threats of industrial action over the outsourcing of learning disability services.

I am shocked, although not surprised, that politicians of your calibre are reduced to political point scoring such as this.  There have been absolutely no discussions between UNISON and BHCC around paid facilities time and I would like you to evidence where this has happened, either via e-mail, phone  or face to face conversations with anyone.  Indeed the current funding of UNISON by BHCC for paid facilities time is no greater this year than last so where the idea of UNISON receiving more financial support comes from is pure imagination on your part I am sorry to say.

With regard to the idea that UNISON has in any way been “bribed” by BHCC in keeping their paid facilities time by not taking industrial action due to the outsourcing of LD services, this is absolutely not true and holds no weight.  As you know, right up until the last day before the services transferred to Grace Eyre, UNISON was campaigning for these services to remain in-house; hardly the actions of a union which had been bribed by the employer to stop any actions preventing the transfer.  An indicative ballot of our members was taken, months after any budget requirement to save the 50k towards facility time and at no time did any discussion take place (other than to notify the employer of the result of the indicative ballot)  between UNISON (me as Branch Secretary) and BHCC around any industrial action being mooted.

I am formally requesting that these comments be retracted; it is nothing short of slanderous and disgraceful that you deem such terminology acceptable to use about a sovereign trade union who has proven itself time and time again to have integrity in all its’ dealings with this employer; indeed over many years we have worked together with BHCC to not only save money (millions during the equal pay claim years) but to find mutual solutions to the many and varied issues which have arisen.  Should a retraction not be made I will have no alternative but to seek legal advice as to any actions this branch can take against individuals who have slandered this union with these lies.

Whilst I, as Branch Secretary of UNISON, do not expect you to particularly support us,  I do expect honesty and integrity to play its’ part and I am sorry to say that on this occasion, you have fallen far short of either of those values in making such spurious claims as have been reported in the Argus.  This union does not need to engage in any such nefarious activity as accepting any sort of bribe; our successes are based on solid negotiation and the great support our membership show to its’ union when asked to do so on issues which affect our members adversely.  You do a great dis-service to our thousands of members that rely on this branch to offer them the support and representation that they deserve in a lawful way, upholding our values of honesty, integrity and truth!

I expect an apology and look forward to hearing from you in regard to the above.

Sue Beatty

Branch Secretary

UNISON Brighton & Hove Branch

01273 291619

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Get help with school uniform costs this summer

If you are a Unison member with school-age children and are struggling to make ends meet, you may be interested to know that the union has set up a limited fund to help members on low incomes with school uniform costs.

To apply download an application form from the national Unison website at or contact Unison Direct on 0800 0857 857.

The closing date for applications is 21st July 2017.

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No co-operation with “First Care”!

Dear UNISON member, 

I am writing with regard to proposed changes being made by Brighton & Hove City Council around how you are being asked to report sickness. At the current time, it is an agreed process that you would phone up your line manager and explain you were taking time off. You are then required to keep in touch with your line manager and update them on when you would be returning to work etc. Once back at work, you would have a meeting with your line manager and a Return to Work interview would be carried out (I’m aware this doesn’t always happen but that is what should happen!).


BHCC have now employed a third party organisation to “manage” your sickness. This company is called First Care and we have been in recent discussions with senior management/Human Resources regarding the use of such an organisation. A pilot is going to be introduced into some of the directorates and you will be required to phone this company on your first day of sickness, rather than your manager. They will then “triage” you in regard to your circumstances of sickness and will notify your manager of your absence.


BHCC believe that this company (which is privately run) will be able to provide the support needed for whilst you are off sick; however, their sole purpose for employing this company is to reduce sickness absence and UNISON is extremely concerned about a number of issues for which we have had no reassurances:


· What if an employee does not wish to discuss their absence with a stranger who is not their manager nor someone from BHCC?

· What advice would the employee be given by First Care that they could not receive from their own GP/medical professional?

· What if an employee does not wish to discuss personal information with a stranger in regard to an underlying health condition (this could apply for example to someone with a mental health condition/disability?)

· How is the information given to First Care by the employee stored? How can staff be assured there is no data protection issue?

· What if staff do not wish to take or receive “triaging” to other services; what are the consequences? Would they be viewed as not “helping themselves”?

· What if advice given by this company contradicts GP/medical advisor advice?


Because of the above, UNISON is advising our members not to comply with this new process. We believe that the current process of sickness reporting, whilst not perfect, is the right one. Employees have a working relationship with their line manager where, if they so choose, they can discuss their health issues. No such relationship exists with First Care and we feel that is it likely staff will not want to go through their medical history and current situation when they can do so with their line manager. Also, First Care involvement does not mean that your line manager won’t be expecting you to discuss your current health situation with him or her as well and so we are somewhat unsure as to why First Care are needed (other than to work towards reducing absence via less supportive means). We are told that they have a good track record for reducing absence significantly and the concerns we hold are around how they achieve this. In the absence of any clear information coming from BHCC UNISON feels it is right to bring this situation to our members’ attention and to advise members not to comply.


If you are an employee within one of the directorates that the pilot is taking place in, and you or colleagues are placed in a position of being told to contact First Care during sickness absence, please contact me straight away. I have advised BHCC that UNISON is sending out and advice and support to our members.


With best wishes




Sue Beatty

Branch Secretary

UNISON Brighton & Hove Branch

01273 291619

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