On the front line
Claire Dent – Negotiations executive for London and the South East
Stuart Anderson – Negotiations Executive for Scotland, North and North west
Chris Manning – Negotiations executive for the Midlands, South and Wales
It has again been a settled period in Education and Children Services with fewer than normal restructures or consultations taking place over the summer months.
While it has been quiet with collective issues, member’s personal cases continue to need my support.
I continue to support a member who is employed by a London local authority and suffers from a long term condition which requires support to enable her to return to work.
There has recently been a change of line management which has once again delayed the Access to Work recommendations being fully implemented, causing further distress.
I have requested a further referral to Occupational Health to explore the possibility of Ill Health Retirement for this member and this is ongoing.
I received some really complimentary feedback from a member I recently supported around a Capability review.
As is frequently the case within Education Services, this member’s role had gone through various restructures and been rebadged several times.
There had never been any question around his capability or commitment to his job but the role he had been placed in now called for a different set of qualifications.
His employer was well aware of his skill set when they slotted him into this role but because of feedback they had received from outside agencies who were buying their services they felt he could no longer continue in this role.
The employer thought the correct solution would be to take him down a Capability route. I robustly rejected this idea and suggested that if they took this route we would consider a grievance and ultimately a legal challenge for unfair dismissal. Happily this situation has now resolved and the member’s feedback is great to read.
‘Wonderful support received from Claire. This has been one of the most challenging points in my career and without Claire things could have gone very wrong for me. She has always replied to my messages really quickly and her advice has been invaluable. She handled a lot of the conversations with my employer at a time I didn’t feel able to and she proved a tough negotiator.’
This just highlights the real benefit of belonging to a union. No-one knows when problems or issues may arise at work. At that point you need someone who can support you when you may be feeling vulnerable.
If you know of colleagues who are not in a union or are unhappy with the service they receive from their current union encourage them to join Prospect. There is a three months free offer currently available so if they join now they will pay nothing until 2019. You could also benefit from the member recruit member offer.
As I am writing at the start of a new academic year, and as this is the last Education Eye of the calendar year, I thought it a good time to look back at the events of the last month, and see what themes and trends might be observed.
The general picture across children’s services has been one of reduction of capacity again. As usual, this reduction of capacity has not come with a reduction in demands: particularly in local government, fewer professionals are being asked to carry out the same statutory duties to the same standard.
Many Prospect members will agree with Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, who asked for clarity on the statutory duties placed on local authorities.
The same issue regarding the reduction of funding but maintenance of duties can be clearing seen in Early Years.
I wrote about the impact of changes of the Early Years Funding formula this year, across a number of local authorities in my area. Changes made by central government meant that a larger proportion of allocated funds went directly to settings.
This put pressure on local authorities to either make cuts or attempt to close the funding gap by operating traded services.
Traded services have, for years now, been an attractive option for local authorities seeking functions that are no longer directly funded or within budget.
However, an unfortunate trend is that even fairly well established traded services are starting to fail, with both academy chains and some maintained schools opting not to buy back into local authorities’ services.
This is not true across the board, with some local authorities operating large teams providing high quality services. Although, this can mean local school improvement teams lose out as academy chains commission one team for all their schools, and individual schools make the decision to look across traditional boundaries to commission services.
However, I have seen across the last year that early engagement with the employers with Prospect support can improve outcomes. The most important advice when faced with challenges at work is to seek support and to propose workable alternatives. In the most part, employers are willing to listen and engage.
At the end of June Prospect‘s Education & Children’s Services Group ran a training day for some of our local reps; members who have stepped up to play a more active role in the union by providing support to other members and liaising with their full-time officer.
The training day included a general overview of the roles of the local reps and signposted them to further training available from Prospect, including training on how to handle members’ personal cases at work.
In the previous two editions of Education Eye I wrote about how our full-time officers help if you have a problem at work, the types of cases we handle, the processes that we follow and why being in the correct union affords you the best protection in the workplace.
Ready to step up?
However, if any member has an interest in helping their colleagues by handling cases at an early stage we would welcome your involvement. After training, you will be supported by your full-time officer, who will always be ready to step in should the case escalate.
Common themes for personal cases include grievances, disciplinary matters, performance management issues, capability, absence management, restructures and redundancy.
Trained local Reps can assist in all of these cases and regularly do so across the whole of Prospect. If you would like to know more about becoming a rep and the training available please email: email@example.com
Over the summer, personal cases have taken up the bulk of my time. Across the areas I cover I have supported members through grievances (seven cases), disciplinary investigation (two cases), performance management (two cases), capability (two cases), absence management (two cases), restructure/redundancy (six cases) and pay and pension (one case).
Members are raising grievances for a variety of reasons including overload (due to teams and services being cut back) and bullying, harassment or victimisation at work. Sometimes there is a combination; an overloaded manager making unreasonable demands of their diminished team.
All employees should expect to be treated with dignity and respect in a safe and healthy working environment that is free from bullying, harassment and victimisation. We all know that this is not always the case, but nobody should have to suffer in silence.
If you feel that you are being unfairly treated in any way please speak to your local rep or contact your full-time officer by emailing the ECS Group office at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Be aware of your rights
Similarly, no Prospect member should be on the receiving end of any formal procedures (disciplinary, performance, capability etc) without the support and advice offered by the union.
Employees have a legal right to be accompanied to formal disciplinary and grievance meetings and, with early enough Prospect involvement, a lot of problems can be resolved informally by speaking to the right people and avoiding the need to invoke formal processes.
Please be aware of your legal rights at work which can be found here and check your employer’s policies and procedures to see what else they allow for.
Please also make sure that your colleagues know that Prospect will support them in all workplace issues; but only if they join before they need our help. Prospect will not usually provide personal assistance in respect of any matter arising before an application for membership.
Army welfare service
As a result of the local reps training day we discovered a new group of potential members for the Education & Children’s Services Group.
One of the attendees was from the Ministry of Defence’s Army Welfare Service, which provides support for service children. Many of the staff are employed on Soulbury terms so Prospect would be the natural union for them to join.
Later in the year they are holding an all-staff event at which Prospect will have a recruitment stand, so we look forward to welcoming some new MoD colleagues into our union.
Elsewhere, membership numbers need to at least be kept at a stable level and hopefully increased. Please spread the word about Prospect and the Education & Children’s Services Group to your colleagues. The greater our numbers, the stronger our voice.