ECSG updates from the frontline: May 2020

ECSG updates from the frontline: May 2020

Prospect negotiators for the education and children's services group give their updates from the last month.



Claire Dent – Negotiations officer for London and the South East

Chris Manning – Negotiations executive for the Midlands and South

Daniel Maney – Negotiations Officer for Wales

Angela Moffatt – Negotiations Officer for Northern Ireland

Stuart Anderson – Negotiations Executive for Scotland, North and North west

Claire Dent 

All areas of education have been affected by the current Covid 19 crisis. Prospect members have had to make changes to the way they deliver their work. With schools closed, except for children of key workers, our members have been delivering services to local authorities and academies in new ways.

It has been relatively quiet in relation to my work with this group of members, both collectively and with personal cases. Obviously I have had to change the way I work, using technology to attend meetings and support members.

Croydon

Octavo re-joined the Council at the end of April and staff have had their contract of employment transferred over under the TUPE regulations without any issues being highlighted.

Herts for Learning (HfL)

Due to the financial impact coronavirus has had on the organisation’s income, HfL offered all their staff to volunteer for furlough under the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).

This scheme offers 80% of salary up to £2500 to be paid by the Government. Prospect would always try to persuade employers to top up this amount to staff’s normal salary but despite our best efforts HfL have declined to do so.

They have had approximately 26 staff volunteer for this offer. HfL suggested that they may move to make furloughing compulsory at the end of May depending on the COVID-19 situation at that time.

I have reminded them that the CJRS requires agreement by the employee and cannot be imposed. Obviously if we get to this point I would be advising members to accept this offer given that the alternative may result in redundancy but I just felt it was important to clarify this point.

Personal Cases

A member who works in a private nursery has lodged an ACAS Early Conciliation claim with my support for Unlawful Deduction of Wages. She has left this employment but did not receive the correct final salary including holiday pay and overtime payments owed.

With the support of Prospect’s legal team we are challenging this. This demonstrates the importance of union membership as without this expert help and support the member would not have had the knowledge to contest this.

My member in Croydon who I have been supporting and advising for a number of months has lodged a Grievance appeal. Parts of her grievance were upheld but there remained concerns about the outcome.

I had to remind Croydon that the Grievance outcome letter should include the right to appeal which was missing, another example that even very senior management do not understand or apply their own policies and HR are not monitoring that these policies are applied.

A member in Central Bedfordshire who is challenging the failure of the Council to pay her in line with the National Soulbury pay scale is awaiting an outcome to her Grievance appeal. Prospect has supported her consistently and without our support she would have been refused the right to challenge this even in the initial stages.

She was told on several occasions that she could not use the grievance process to challenge her salary, which in this instance was completely incorrect. If there is not a positive outcome to her appeal Prospect will make representations to The National Soulbury Committee for their adjudication.

Prospect is a member of this committee and the National Soulbury Agreement is clear that disagreements regarding implementing nationally negotiated pay should be referred to the committee.

Recruitment

Recruitment has been slow within this group in part because we are unable to get out to see members. I think the examples of personal cases I am dealing reiterate the importance of union membership during these uncertain times.

Please encourage your colleagues to join Prospect, explaining the benefits membership has brought to you. We know that members talking to their colleagues about the benefits of Prospect membership really impacts on recruitment. The more people we have in membership, the greater influence we have.

Chris Manning

The amount of Prospect involvement across the ECS Group in the South and South West regions continues to be fairly low; a situation exacerbated by the current COVID-19 crisis. However, I continue to support ECS Group members with individual and collective cases involving various workplace issues.

A restructure in Dorset Council saw the employer work with Prospect to find the best solutions for our two affected members. A pragmatic approach resulted in both members receiving the best outcomes they could have hoped for.

A similar restructure in Plymouth has had to be put on hold until normal working resumes after the COVID-19 lockdown.

The lockdown itself has highlighted a couple of cases for ECS members. One involves a member who works on a zero-hours contract but who has had her hours drastically cut; the other concerns a member who was experiencing difficulties over flexibility with annual leave during the lockdown period.

Other cases of interest that I am currently dealing with include a member whose employer has failed to pay them at the appropriate Soulbury pay rate and two cases of members feeling bullied and undermined by their managers.

If you need any advice or support during, and after, these unprecedented times please email wakefield@prospect.org.uk with your enquiry. 

Daniel Maney

COVID-19 has had a huge impact across Wales. Most local authorities have responded quickly and the feedback I am getting from members and reps is that, generally, it is working well with education provision moving online and remote working taking place across Wales.

Like the rest of the UK schools, childcare is still open to children of critical workers and vulnerable children but most offices have closed and are inaccessible to all but those workers carrying out essential COVID-19 response work.

The Children, Young People and Education Committee is exploring how the outbreak of COVID-19 is affecting all aspects of life for children and young people (including students in further and higher education).

I will be contacting all educations members in Wales to submit a Prospect response to this consultation imminently but the information is available at the link above if you wish to submit an individual response. 

In terms of case work there have been delays in finalising some personal cases that were ongoing before lockdown due to the lockdown restrictions but efforts are being made to finalise these in an acceptable fashion.

I have received three cases of COVID-19 specific queries to do with the lockdown and remote working practices but all have been resolved informally thus far.

I have begun to receive tentative inquires about some re-organisations but these are currently very limited in number and confidential for now, though further updates should be available by the next update.

The Welsh government have updated the sector regularly and I have included their links to the latest updates below.

Angela Moffat

We’ve entered a rather quiet period for industrial relations – as the focus shifts necessarily to working through the current situation. EA Prospect members are working very hard to keep things running as smoothly as possible.

There remains a challenge getting a small number of children of Key Workers supervised, but there is a concern that this number could grow as some businesses are trying to find loopholes in the definition of ‘essential’ in order to re-open in the near future.

Most casework for members has been suspended, given the changed arrangements – and we are hoping that we will have a clear idea of how work will resume, once current restrictions begin to ease.

On an individual basis we have been helping members one to one, with issues they are encountering. It has been a very busy period – and we are grateful to members for their patience when getting back to them. Some members have reported accepting waiting one extra month to get their pay increments, but no longer than that.

Collective work by unions has focused on trying to work through with management, detail surrounding the issues raised by increased home working, social distancing, safe working practices and so on. We have tried to ensure members are kept aware of communications via the Department on this.

We’d really welcome feedback from members on how we can better support them in an NI specific way, throughout this period. So please email us via ni@prospect.org.uk and we can work through suggestions for what members would find useful.

Please note – we are currently working at reduced staffing levels in Prospect NI – but we will endeavour to help members as quickly as possible.

 

Stuart Anderson

The working lives for Prospect member in ECS has changed a great deal since the last issue of Education Eye, and that has meant that the work I have done to help support members has changed with it.

Members that work for local authorities are supporting schools and young people in new ways and while working remotely. Members have been in touch since the start of the lockdown period to discuss working from home and workload concerns.

I have spoken to one Senior Education Adviser for a County Council’s School Improvement Service. He finds himself doing a very different day job in the current climate supporting schools and families.

Along with colleagues, he maintains daily contact with the headteachers of a number of the county’s maintained schools AND academies, acting as a buffer and filter to the deluge of communication from the government and other agencies, answering questions and signposting to colleagues in other services.

Two key focus areas of discussion are how schools are supporting their vulnerable learners and how they are managing home learning. In addition, Matt oversees and staffs one of the 16 LA hubs that have been set up to provide weekend and bank holiday childcare for children of key workers when they need it. The establishment of these, alongside an online booking system, has been a key success for the authority.

Many of our self-employed members have faced difficulty and doubt regarding work and the support available from government.

Our guidance on this subject can be found here. Prospect is continuing to lobby government on support for self-employed members including those who are directors of limited liability companies.

I know from contact with local authority employed members that they are supporting schools by advising them in new areas, like PPE and social distancing, and in old areas, like leadership and mental health but in new ways.

However, I am keen to gain an understanding of the work our members are doing in education and children’s services. Please get in touch at stuart.anderson@prospect.org.uk