As a brief preface to the very current pay and grading review, under equal pay legislation, claims have cost the council a lot of money. Last summer out of court settlements cost the authority £3.5m, and to carry on with the current pay system and be open to further challenge was not a feasible option, though it certainly hasn’t been sprung on the council this year.
The authority has historical anomalies going back many years, as far as, if not further than the merger of South Pembrokeshire and Preseli Pembrokeshire District Councils in 1995/6. With the settling of historical equal pay issues last year, the council was required to put a system of payment in place to prevent similar issues going into the future and to avoid similar claims arising; and that is the current pay and grading review – which resulted in letters containing good or bad news landing on the doormats of council workers towards the end of January, though school teachers and senior council officers are excluded from this review as they are part of national pay-bargaining schemes.
The council’s idea of plugging up this equality hole is a sweeping change, which the Labour party are describing as ‘draconian.’ A new pay model and new terms and conditions might be going down well with the gainers, but for those who are losing out, the picture is not so rosy. They are to be given the chance to receive a lump sum payment of the reduction in their salary for one year. It’s branded as a ‘one year hardship payment.’ Adding to the misery of the losers, is that those whose salaries are to gain can receive a year’s back-pay of the extra amount.
Both of these perks are based upon one condition, though. Unison is of the opinion that this condition, and the way the council has gone about conducting it, is a form of coercion, and that there may be doubt over its legality. And in a press release by Cllr. Paul Miller of Labour, it is described as: “holding a gun to the heads of worried and vulnerable staff.” Employees are only able to claim either of these sweeteners if they sign the dotted line by 28th February, which didn’t leave much time for consideration, and has caused untold anguish to members of staff already suffering long pay-freezes.
As part of this whole process, jobs were supposed to have been evaluated, to see how difficult each role is, the level of skills required to perform it, knowledge, experience and other such criteria. It is a vital part of the process, because new pay grades cannot be gauged fairly if the authority’s understanding of the job is not fair and accurate. There is serious doubt cast over just how accurate the job evaluations have been. Some staff members have claimed to have been graded on job descriptions up to five years old, holding many differences to the functions they actually perform.
The possibility that misinformed data and old knowledge might have been used by the council in coming to its conclusions has been at the front of mind of the unions for a long time. In an ideal world, they told councillors today, every single employee from school cooks to office staff should have sat down and talked through their roles with managers to make up a definitive job profile. Nothing close to this was done. Instead, it is understood that original job descriptions were run past Heads of Services or line managers, and basic requests by Unison to see examples of random job evaluations that were selected by the council, were turned down.
I have spoken to members of staff personally who have told of the bizarre situation where they are adamant that their newly slotted role is wrongly based, but are refused access to the job description or criteria used in this review. So not only do staff not know what has been used to grade their pay, but the only way they can find out is if they sign the dotted line and then go on to appeal, at which point, all will have to be revealed.
The message put out by the council is that redundancies are being avoided, and that might well be true, and is surely a good thing, and it was also true that a radical system was required. However, Unison says it has also got proposals that can do the job, more fairly, but which fell on deaf ears by the council.
What I, along with many councillors know on the council’s own review is quite thin. My limited understanding is that 19.4% of staff will gain, 17.8% of staff will lose, and 62.8% of staff will see no change. The corresponding rough figures are 1100, 900, and 3500 members of staff. The only other knowledge I can share, and I am coming near the end of the hard figures, is that nine members of staff will be losing £4-5,000 and 600 will be losing less than £1,000. And that was it, until today’s seminar from Unison.
One fascinating insight that those figures can’t show, is where the losers are coming from. The picture portrayed by Unison is that the already lower paid staff will bear the brunt of the losses, and the higher paid will suffer with comparatively fewer. The figures would seem to support the theory. The following table shows the lowest three grades and the highest four pay grades. You will notice that this data shows a large number of losers in the lower three grades, and a small number of losers in the highest grades.
This, Unison says, will do nothing for staff morale, and it would be hard to disagree. Unfortunately, whilst I have neither firm figures nor greater knowledge of the council’s plan, the same can be said of my knowledge of Unison’s plan, but what I can share is that with their implementation, Unison says 53.69% of staff would gain, 9.46% would lose, and 38.86% would remain the same.
Over a five year period, Unison’s consultants believe that staffing costs under the council’s own implementation will come to £73,000,000. The five year figure predicted under Unison’s proposals would be 0.3% higher – an increase of £220,000, and, they say, would more fairly and evenly distribute the gains and losses throughout the pay structures.
The Labour party has also picked up on very real concerns about the independence of the appeals system, details of which the council has not yet revealed, even down to the dates of the window of opportunity to submit appeals. And there might be good reason to forget about fixed dates, because next week councillors might (and I use the term ‘might’ correctly) get their chance to have their first say in this whole pay and grading review.
At the next meeting of council, on the 28th February – the same day on which the sign-up deadline for the sweeteners falls, there are a number of Notices of Motions on the agenda relating directly to the pay and re-grading review. Under normal rules, these motions would be automatically referred to committee without any discussion, and be referred back to the following (May) meeting, but Cllr. Paul Miller has requested, constitutionally, that all items of business relating to the pay and re-grading review, of which four have been submitted, be transacted during Thursday’s meeting, without referral.
You can read the agenda on the council’s website, but I have copied the relevant motions below:
Cllr. Paul Miller
“That this council suspend council procedure rule 10.4 in respect of all motions brought to this meeting (28 February 2013) which relate to the Pay and Grading Review.
I respectfully request that this motion be transacted before any other notices of motion on the 28 February 2013.
For clarity this motion is put to allow all such motions, relating to the pay and grading review, to be transacted at the meeting (28 February 2013).”
Cllr. Paul Miller
“That this council resolve that the chairs of all appeals committees convened in relation to the pay and grading review be truly independent.
As such this council directs that an individual may only be selected to chair such a committee where his/her independence has been agreed by the Head of Human Resources at Pembrokeshire County Council and all recognised trade unions. “
Cllr. Paul Miller
“That this council resolve that no member of staff, who does not sign up to the contractual change by close of business today (28 February 2013), will be denied a hardship payment where an agreement is subsequently reached. ”
Cllr. Gwilym Price
“That this council requires a review be undertaken of all Job Descriptions and Departmental Operational Procedures, reporting to the Corporate Governance Committee before the end of May 2013. This review shall look specifically at:
1) When the job description for each council post was last reviewed in conjunction with the member of staff in the post to which it relates.
2) The robustness of procedures to ensure an annual review of that job description with the post holder.
3) The current levels of compliance with those procedures, by directorate.
The report shall consider the position as on 28 February 2013.
Subject to its findings this review shall make recommendations for the strengthening of existing operating procedures and better ensuring compliance.
Suggested outcome: Better accountability and transparency between staff and management through a robust quality system. “
Cllr. Reg Owens
“As a result of recent job evaluation findings a large number of staff, many of whom are already on low grades have had these reduced, this will result in tremendous distress and hardship to those affected.
To assist in alleviating this hardship to many key workers I propose that these staff have their current pay and conditions frozen for a period of three years thus giving them time to make the necessary adjustments to their family financial commitments and confirming our position as a fair and compassionate employer.”
It might be too late to make a u-turn, and it’s a big shame that there’s been such a lack of collaboration with all concerned up until this point, but Thursday’s meeting will be quite a test – firstly to see if these proposals are allowed to be voted on, and if so, who votes which way. A potentially more equal, thorough and fairer method of plugging the pay equality hole may have fallen on deaf ears, but they weren’t the ears of councillors, who are quick to be reminded that this re-grading exercise is done in their name – as the ‘employers,’ but without input.
I can’t imagine there are many ‘employers’ in Pembrokeshire who are as poorly-informed as Pembrokeshire’s 60 councillors, and, on the whole, it’s certainly not for the want of trying.