For several years now, our outgoing Branch Secretary Paul Speller has been involved in negotiations with the London Borough of Bexley’s HR department (LBB) around a wide range of possible changes to the terms and conditions of all staff employed by the council. We sought your views on many such measures in a detailed survey in December 2019 and used these to feed into our ongoing discussions.
Your UNISON branch has successfully argued against many of the proposed changes, as well as making the case for improvements ourselves. LBB are now in a position where they would like to press ahead with implementing a small package of changes which UNISON Bexley branch believe are overall beneficial to our members.
The three changes we will now be asking you to vote on (as a package) are:
Significantly lowering the bar to incremental progression:
For ten years now, staff have only been able to receive an incremental pay rise if they have performed far above and beyond the basic expectations of them for their job. Specifically, to get an increment, the current scheme says your overall performance has to “materially exceed requirements” – an extremely high bar to basic pay progression.
As we have argued repeatedly, this is fundamentally wrong: staff doing a good job should expect to automatically progress each year (as their experience increases) towards the 100% pay rate for the job, not be artificially held back by excessive requirements that may in particular be harder to achieve for staff with caring commitments or other reasons why they are not able to go above and beyond for their job at all times.
If you approve the package of proposals we are balloting on, the new requirement for an increment will simply be that your performance is “good”, and we would therefore expect to see the vast majority of staff (who are not yet at the 100% rate for their job) progress to the next increment every year.
Guaranteeing that Hay pay awards will always automatically match NJC pay awards:
For a few decades, Bexley has operated a two-tier pay scale system.
Staff on grades up to Bexley 09 have their annual cost-of-living pay rise set by a nationally negotiated process (NJC) involving the full machinery of many unions such as UNISON, and affecting most local government staff all over the country.
Meanwhile staff on grades from Bexley 10 upwards have their annual rise set just in Bexley via a slow, convoluted process (Hay) with minimal opportunity for union input and the constant threat that the rise may be lower than it is for NJC grades.
There are often long delays: most recently, the Hay rise for 1 July 2020 was only paid in February 2021. And after all the waiting, almost every year the Hay rise has simply mirrored the NJC rise anyway – the only exception in recent memory being 2009, when Hay staff were awarded no pay rise at all instead of the rise which NJC staff got.
If you approve this package of changes, the new arrangements will simply mean that whatever percentage award is given to grades up to Bexley 09 via the national NJC process for 1 April each year will then automatically apply to grades Bexley 10 and above, removing the uncertainty, delay and risk of lower pay rise from all the affected staff.
Abolishing bonus payments:
Currently, bonuses can sometimes be paid to staff whose performance has been “exceptional” in a particular year at Bexley.
In your responses to our survey, it was clear that many of our members do not feel that the bonus system works fairly and that bonuses only tend to be paid to staff who are already among the higher-paid anyway.
In our negotiations, we put forward some alternative ways to reward excellent performance, such as fixed-cash-sum bonuses (which would mean more to those on lower pay than a percentage would). But ultimately these were not taken forward by HR and the proposal remained as complete abolition of bonuses.
Whatever your views on the current bonus system, last year we saw a very significant reason why your union branch believes the abolition of bonuses is a small price to pay for the improvements represented by the other two changes above. Last year, managers throughout the council went through the usual process of assessing staff performance and putting many of them forward for bonuses. Reviews were undertaken, details challenged, many hours invested in assessing the recommendations. And then, out of the blue, the council decided to invoke a clause in the terms and conditions of bonuses to claim that the award of any bonuses at all was ‘unaffordable’ – so no-one at all received a bonus last year, regardless of any exceptional performance.
We fundamentally disagreed with this outcome and thought it extremely unfair, but the fact that this is possible within the current terms and conditions of the bonus scheme means that if we do not vote through this package, it’s evidently feasible for the council to declare bonuses unaffordable every year anyway and never pay another bonus again.
This is why we believe there is no great loss in conceding this point and allowing the abolition of bonuses, in order to achieve the significant improvements represented by the other two changes above.
We are therefore recommending that members vote Yes in this ballot. We have held off numerous worse proposals and believe this package represents an overall improvement for a majority of Bexley staff.
We anticipate that LBB (and possibly those schools with staff employed by LBB) will arrange some briefings for staff around the proposed changes at some point during the ballot period so do look out for those if you’d like to get more details directly from the HR department.
Your vote really counts
We will be sending out an email ballot to all members who are employed by the London Borough of Bexley shortly. If you have not received one by 13 August 2021 and are a UNISON member employed by the London Borough of Bexley, please contact us so that we can look into why not.
Votes must be received by 2pm on Thursday 30 September 2021 – please make sure you vote before then!
- If a majority of members vote Yes (as we are recommending), we will confirm to LBB that UNISON is happy for them to make this change and the change will then be able to go ahead (as long as the other recognised unions also agree).
- If a majority vote No, negotiations will have to resume, so if you are voting No it would be very helpful if you could also let us know in the box provided what you would like to see improved about the offer.