Following the Staff Partnership Forum held at EEAST HQ yesterday.(Wednesday 3 October.)
UNISON reps John Hammond, Michael Whitcombe, Jes Micallef and Graham Hillman attended for UNISON alongside me.
As you may expect, the meeting was dominated by the issue of Building Better Rotas and discussions around an employer-wide Relief Policy.
I wanted to update UNISON members on some important decisions that were discussed. There is also a statement that will be on the trust Need to Know today on this issue.
Building Better Rotas.
Last week lead managers from EEAST attended a national seminar around safe staffing. UNISON national officer Alan Lofthouse was also in attendance. A speaker from the South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) spoke about how SCAS is looking at alternative options to relief work and flexible alternative options to relief.
UNISON has spoken to the employer to see if options being considered at SCAS could be further investigated at EEAST.
The employer has always said as part of the BBR process that if there are options that could be considered that they will look at these. Following discussions at yesterday’s SPF it has been agreed that the employer and UNISON will look at what SCAS is considering with a view to considering this in EEAST.
From the little currently known already, it appears that SCAS wants to cease permanent relief. But, like EEAST, SCAS has vacancy issues and the need to cover abstractions, and recruit and retain staff. I do not believe SCAS will have a proposal that will be acceptable to all staff, but as there are different approaches to the BBR at EEAST, UNISON has asked for this to be investigated. SCAS is not planning on eliminating all relief working. SCAS has stated that permanent relief rotas are not desirable for staff. One of the proposed solutions is that all staff have to work a small number of relief weeks – this appears very similar to what is proposed in the EEAST Building Better Rotas discussions. The other solution looked at with SCAS is that rotas have “integrated leave”, which would mean that all staff have between 1 and 4 weeks of their annual leave predetermined by their employer. It is important to note that UNISON activists at SCAS do not support either of these proposals.
Following the SPF, it was agreed that the BBR process would not vote on the current 2 options that are being discussed at each station while the options being considered around relief at SCAS are being investigated.
For clarity, UNISON confirmed at the SPF that the existing status quo regarding shift arrangements remains in place. If the position around voting on BBR rota options does go ahead in the future both the trust and UNISON have confirmed that this is not a vote that confirms staff are in acceptance of the option.
UNISON made the position clear that if UNISON members are given a proposal that could see a change to the status quo that members do not feel is acceptable then UNISON will consult members around raising this as a dispute and follow the dispute resolution procedure. UNISON has already made it clear to the trust that if a dispute is raised and there is no satisfactory resolution UNISON can consider all options including industrial action.
At present there is no trust-wide relief policy for when staff currently (or in the future) may work an element of relief.
Recently UNISON members have asked UNISON to negotiate a trust-wide relief policy as a priority.
It is important to recognise that relief will continue in some form in the future as some staff choose to work relief as this can fit into flexible working arrangements.
A policy has been back and forth between the employer and UNISON with the involvement of UNISON reps, the branch convenor, UNISON’s national ambulance lead officer and regional staff. The latest draft was discussed and gone through again at the SPF yesterday with the amended document being tidied up and made clearer.
Many staff who currently work on “relief only contracts” and staff who work on core lines would like to see an agreed relief policy before they consider any element of relief. It is UNISON’s belief that the policy is Agenda for Change and Working Time Directive compliant, is in line with employment contracts and the employer’s operating models and will ensure equity amongst staff that undertake any element of relief.
UNISON hope to be able to agree the relief policy and have this available for staff to view in advance of any future vote on rota options.