Trade unions involved in a bitter dispute with Newry, Mourne and Down Council have hit out over what they have called “total misinformation” from its chief executive, Marie Ward.
Talks between senior Council management and the joint trade unions side (JTUS) were held behind close doors on Thursday and Good Friday in a bid to end the impasse and prevent industrial action from going ahead this morning (Monday).
But Council issued a statement on Friday stating that talks did not result in the postponement of the proposed work-to-rule action, despite its management agreeing to unions’ “list of demands”.
However, that claim has been strongly refuted by the JTUS, which slammed Council management’s “clear breach of confidentiality” and that the CEO is “constantly trying to win yours and the public’s favour and support by misinformation in written format”.
In a letter to its members, signed by the four representatives – Kevin Kelly, NIPSA; Niall McNally, SIPTU; Kieran Ellison, UNITE; and Alan Perry, GMB – Mr Kelly, secretary of the JTUS said it was “unbelievable that I am having to write to you yet again on behalf of the four unions to correct the total misinformation contained in a letter to you from the CEO”.
“As you are aware from our previous, correspondence your representatives only deal in facts based on clear evidence. We will not alter from this stance and can now provide you with a true and accurate update on recent negotiations.
“However before we go into this detail I must put on record Trade Unions disappointment with management’s clear breach of confidentiality. Both sides agreed via the LRA [Labour Relations Agency] that the talks at this stage were confidential until an agreement was reached.
“However, we were surprised that you received a letter before some of us had left the building. It seems when management give their word it cannot be trusted, maybe that is why a vote of no confidence was overwhelmingly carried. Given the CEO’s disregard for confidentiality, we believe we also have the right for public reply.
“The CEO states in her letter that management have agreed to our list of demands – nothing could be further from the truth. What is true is that management produced a document of proposals which they believed would resolve the issues which gave rise to the current dispute.”
Related: Industrial action to go ahead despite Council management agreeing to unions’ ‘list of demands’
Mr Kelly added: “Their proposals, for what they are worth, are not reflective of our demands in multiple ways, never mind a resolution. I would actually state factually that management came to the table without ever wanting to know what the dispute was about.
“They had over six weeks to negotiate with us from the date we sent them notice of our dispute. They waited until four days (two working days) before the action was to take place before the agreed to meet us.”
Mr Kelly detailed the unions’ responses to the proposals in the letter. They were:
Proposal 1: Draft Pay protection arrangements.
“They say they have increased compensation as if this is a good thing. In reality, they want to give members a long-term pay cut with very little protection. Some of the examples they actually gave us left us flabbergasted that they thought this was acceptable.
“A group of staff currently on £30,113 per year including conditioned overtime will take a long-term pay cut to £27,852. A difference of £2,261. Management propose to pay the difference as a buyout for one year after which they remain with the pay cut. I know what you’re asking, how can we not agree with that, surely that is reasonable, stop the action now!”
Proposal 2: Alignment of transferred NI Civil service staff.
“We are at a loss as to why this proposal came forward as it didn’t form part of the dispute. Discussions have been
taking place regarding this group of staff but not in this forum. However, it has been noted that they have also proposed pay cuts for some of these staff. Do they have ask why we did not agree.”
Proposal 3: Household Recycling Centre (HRC) Operations.
“While linked to our demands on service reviews, it was not a direct topic at this stage. However, management have yet
again (they are consistent if nothing else) came to us with proposed long-term pay cuts for the staff concerned in the region of £956 per year. Again do they have to ask why we did not agree!”
Proposal 4: Standard Working Week
“At last a proposal that not only was linked to our demands but adhered to. However, the detail was clearly missing on a number of areas regarding its implementation e.g. how are they were going to ensure it is without loss of pay and given the length of time it has taken to resolve will there be retrospection?”
Proposal 5: Conditioned Overtime
“We must admit that the justification for the removal of this condition did amuse us. It is not too often that staff welfare is top of management’s agenda, however when it results in long term pay cuts for the staff involved exceptions will be made. (Please see response to proposal one for the extent of the pay cuts). Yet again do they have to ask why we did not agree!”
Proposal 6: Additional Payments and Shift Allowances
“This is exactly the same as proposal 5, however, for the out-workings of the pay cuts, look at the response to proposal 3. We did not agree; no need to ask why surely?”
Proposal 7: Job Evaluation
“While the statement from management is welcome regarding the regional approach to job evaluation, it doesn’t cover the areas of dispute in the short-term regarding mirroring the process in ABC council. Until that approach is agreed we remain in dispute, especially as the alternative draft proposals they put forward regarding an in-house model were totally management driven and not agreed.
Proposal 8: Building the industrial relations framework
“This is something trade union side welcome for the future as it is clear the status quo is not working. However, we must point out that this didn’t form part of our demands.”
In the letter to members, JTUS outlined what they have demanded of Council, “based on the very real concerns and mandate” members gave them.
“A full and complete timetable to include a start and finish date of all remaining RPA issues including service reviews and allowances etc. Managements response included: No time table; no start time; no conclusions; no order; no terms of references.
We therefore remain in dispute on this matter.
“An agreed formula for any buyouts and or protection arrangements relating to the above if required. Management’s response was significant pay cuts; there was no detail on how to avoid the need protection. We therefore remain in dispute on this matter.
“The facilities and officers released from both sides to meet the above timetable. Management’s response was to ask us to put our request to them. This shouldn’t have to be done as this was previously agreed, however, in the absence of a timetable this can’t
be done. We therefore remain in dispute on this matter.
“The written guarantee and agreed protocols regarding the implementation of moderation panels (as per ABC council) on all job evaluations carried out from January 21, as per our agreement. Management’s response remains silent on this point, however, they did agree with a regional approach. We therefore remain in dispute on this matter.
“The immediate levelling of the working week to 36 hours for all employees. Management’s response, while welcomed, lacked the clarity as described above in their proposals.
“The creation of an all party (to include HR and JTUS) working group to discuss issues of industrial relations outside of normal operational matters. Management are seeking legal opinion on this matter and we await further detail and are therefore still in
dispute on this matter.
“That a third party be used to be used on this occasion that has the authority to have the agreements enforced if there is a failure to comply or a dispute in the agreements interpretation. Management have agreed to this approach on the proviso that the third party is seen as an appeals authority on issues relating to any agreement reached.
“The immediate reversal of all decisions that conflicted with the previous agreements of 21/22. JTUS require a full list of all changes that management are aware of and reserve the right to serve further notice of action on any changes they fail to disclose. Management have neither acknowledged nor reversed their decisions and we therefore remain in dispute on this matter.”