Threat of Dismissal forces UNISON members to resume strike action. Ballot of 3,400 UNISON members in preparation.
UNISON’s members in the Mental Health service (19 staff), have been in an industrial dispute with their employer, Brighton and Hove City Council, since September 2014 (although the issue arose some 2 years prior to that). The dispute is over the insistence of the employer to force these staff to work a stand-by night-time rota, in addition to their day shifts. UNISON members are firmly of the view that not only is this potentially a risk to staff, but also to people whom they are asked to assess in regard to their mental health, almost without exception, in extreme crisis (in the police station, at home, on the street, and so forth). It is quite possible that an AMHP will work all day, be called out at night for several hours, and have appointments the following morning and afternoon. AMHP’s are skilled, dedicated staff who work many unpaid hours each week in serving some of the most vulnerable people in the City – they are highly respected by police and NHS colleagues.
In late 2014 and early 2015, the employer imposed the new rota, and threatened AMHP’s with dismissal, on 4 occasions, if they did not comply. UNISON balloted members for action and the vote was 80% of all members in favour – the action was to strike and refuse to be part of the rota. Whilst members were in the first few weeks of strike, BHCC wrote again to threaten dismissal – as UNISON pointed out to the employer before they sent their letter, this would have been illegal under existing employment legislation. They still sent the letter!
In early Spring 2015, in an effort to resolve the dispute, and following 6 different proposals from UNISON (including a joint rota with West Sussex C.C.; new staff appointed onto contracts containing the requirement to work an on-call rota), we suspended the action as senior managers had asked to have “urgent” individual meetings with AMHP’s to discuss a voluntary rota. These were so “urgent” that less than 19 interviews took 4 months to complete!!!
During this period, no communication, whatsoever, was provide to UNISON or members, as to the outcome of the interviews, or any other of the proposals put forward.
In mid-July the employer wrote direct to 6 of our members, requiring them to attend a rota induction meeting, or be disciplined (and possibly dismissed) – again, notice of this letter has never been provided to UNISON, even though a lawful dispute is still in place.
On Monday of this week a meeting of AMHP’s instructed UNISON to give BHCC notice of a resumption of night time strike action – this has been sent to the employer today (Thursday) and the action will resume next Friday, 14th August 2015, at 10pm, for, at present 6 weeks (this will be extended, as necessary).
In addition, preparations have begun for a full Branch ballot of UNISON’s entire Council membership of 3,700 members, as this is a Branch that stands together, whether it is 1 or a 100 members under threat. This would be the first all-out action taken by UNISON members in the City, over a local dispute, since the formation of the Unitary Authority in 1997.
In a letter sent by Alex Knutsen, last night, to Geoff Raw, Acting Chief Executive, a further offer of immediate talks, and an indication that UNISON has another (we consider realistic) proposal to settle this dispute, was put forward. There are some signs, this morning, that the employer may wish to resume talks.
Alex Knutsen, UNISON Branch Secretary, said
“This is a dispute that should never have happened. A voluntary night rota had successfully been in place for years – it is only when senior managers decided it should be compulsory that problems arose. UNISON has put forward numerous alternatives to cover this essential service in a manner that does not place our dedicated members at risk, and more so, the people they assist. The threats by the Council to disciplne and sack our members have been fundamentally damaging to generally reasonable industrial relations – they are vindictive, and amount to straight out bullying.
With a new proposal from the Branch (one must question why it is always us that have to think up alternatives for management!) there is some hope that a resolution can be reached, but the first requirement will be that the threat of dismissal is withdrawn, in writing – if it is, we can resume talks and maybe avoid further action.”
For further information, please contact Alex Knutsen, on 07961025930 or 01273 291611