All day today a team from UNITE including local UNITE reps from Manchester and Kevin O’Gallagher, UNITE’s National Officer for IT & Communications, met with company representatives and ACAS, to see if a resolution to the dispute could be found without the need for further and wider industrial action.
Unlike last time, the company representatives (all HR) were eventually willing to talk face-to-face. This helped each party understand the other’s position on a number of points, which is vital for progress. However, the company team had not prepared sufficiently to be able to comment on draft points of agreement from the last negotiations sent to them by UNITE on 22nd August. The company team also claimed to be unaware of some of the issues in dispute, even including one listed in the original grievance submitted on 9th June.
Despite the difficulties, some progress was made.
The dispute is over the breakdown in industrial relations, breaches of agreements and victimisation of reps. Below we highlight some examples and how they affect employees.
One of the difficulties with a dispute of this nature is that it cannot be resolved by an agreement that says “we promise to be good in future”. A settlement needs to address some of the specific symptoms of the breaches of agreements so that it is more than empty words. This would also help rebuild trust and working relationships.
The UNITE team produced a draft list of points for negotiation with the aim of making sufficient progress to allow the union to delay calling industrial action. The points ranged from general statements of intent, some relatively minor points which had been agreed earlier in the talks, to setting timescales for resolving some of the symptoms affecting staff.
Having the list meant discussions finally got on to the real issues affecting employees, rather than talking in generalities.
The company responses to the points on the list could broadly be classified as “yes”, “no” and “we’ll look into it”. After the end of the talks, the UNITE team assessed the degree of progress:
- Much of what the company indicated it might offer was the same as or less than what is already in agreements which the company is refusing to adhere to
- Much of what the company said they might look into is already in agreements which the company is refusing to adhere to. Some of these points were raised months ago. Members have often expressed concern about company time-wasting.
- Even the points the company said it would not offer included many which are in agreements signed by the company
Amongst the points the company said it was unwilling even to consider offering were:
- Committing to seeking to negotiate a settlement with Alan Jenney
- Implementing the contractual status of DC pensions, included in the ACAS agreement last year
- Setting up the consultative body for regular discussions about the FJUK pension plan, included in the ACAS agreement last year
- Committing to adhere to the Annex 1 agreement on redundancy and redeployment in respect of consultation and selection
Amongst the points the company proposed to “look into” was the fundamental one about the “status quo” principle – trying to resolve issues by consulting employees before decisions are taken and negotiating before decisions are implemented. The company’s breaches of this principle (which is in an agreement signed earlier this year) lie behind problems staff face with the worsening of terms and conditions and working practices, on Out Of Hours payments and many other issues.
Overall, our negotiating team saw no sign that the company has changed its general approach yet. It still seems to regard keeping a previous promise to staff as a major concession, rather than the norm. The main aim of the company appeared to be to delay industrial action rather than to resolve the dispute. This could be to avoid the pressure of potential coordinated action between UNITE in Manchester and Crewe and PCS.
Unless the company changes tack quickly, more industrial action and campaign activities seem unavoidably necessary to secure fair treatment for staff.