Association of Trade Union,
Political and Public Sector Staff
Public & Voluntary sector
A lot of our work is now in the public and voluntary sectors and there is an increasing number of healthcare staff in
Agenda for Change was aimed at dealing with gender discrimination within the NHS pay systems but there is good evidence to suggest that institutionalised sexism is still rife within the NHS. It may be this way generally in life but it is certainly the way in the NHS that women are seen mostly as just working for pin money. The impact of this is that often female members of staff (or groups that are predominantly female) are seen as being incidental to the plot and employers will often neglect to consult or disregard significant contractual rights. We had one case where nursing staff were working up to 37 hours a week and had been required to do so for quite a while but the employer sought to suggest that the majority of this was overtime and only 9 or so hours constituted the substantive contract. The consequences of this were that the staff had reduced holiday and sick pay but more significantly the employer was "reorganising" and the nursing staff concerned were told that they were only entitled to a very limited number of hours within the new structure. I am pleased to say that we dealt with this and the members concerned received considerable sums of back pay for holiday and sick pay entitlement and they were also given jobs within the "new structure that reflected the hours they had actually been working.
We have also been representing nursing staff on disciplinary matters. When dealing with matters of performance or conduct, the employer is meant to take a fair approach that begins with an objective investigation into the relevant issues. It seems to be an increasing trend that the employers do not seek out so much to investigate but more to prosecute and en route the smallest of mole hills becomes the largest of mountains and ways of working that have been followed for a good while, suddenly and without warning become unacceptable. Our success rate on disciplinary cases has been excellent.
Health Centres/ GP Practices
We also have a growing number of members working in Health Centres and GP Practices and there are particular and significant issues arising in this work area. Part of the problem is that these are small employers that do not have the resources to have distinct and particular human resources expertise. These are run as small businesses, which in itself is not a problem but it can and does happen that staff are seen not so much as being an asset but more of a cost burden. The impact of this can be significant but again we have successfully represented staff in this work area. There is though some particular work to be done to get staff (not just nurses) better conditions and protection. We would very much like to form a particular group of members who work for these small employers so that we would not just be reacting to the sometimes idiosyncratic behaviour of the employer but to be on the front foot, to look and work for better conditions and protection and if and where appropriate to be able to make approaches to the funding bodies.
We have been undertaking some voluntary work for Essex and Waltham Forest Race Equality Councils and from this we have become involved in a growing number of cases arising from Whipps Cross. Recently, there was a series of TV programmes about Whipps Cross and there have been some subsequent glossy magazine articles. The general picture from this is one of an old hospital with management doing all they can to provide a benign and caring service to its patients. We are in no position to offer a view or an opinion on the service provided to the public but we are having increasing concerns in relation to staffing matters. There appears to a propensity to use capability and disciplinary procedures when different and better forms of management could and should be used. As we picked up these cases from our work with Race Equality Councils, then it would perhaps always be likely that race would a feature in the cases that we have been dealing with but we do have particular concerns in that regard. As well as the individual cases, through Essex Race Equality Council we raised concerns that there might be a form of staff segregation on the wards on the basis of race. The Trust first produced a very poor report containing outdated statistical data. We protested about that. After some time, more relevant information was then produced and we attended a meeting just before Christmas when there was an acceptance from senior members of staff that there might be an issue here. We were (are) concerned that the Hospital was just going to tinker with this around the edges and we put our view that having accepted this at officer level, it was then important that this was acknowledged at the very highest levels within the Hospital with a comprehensive review then being undertaken in order to seek to establish the depth of the problem and look to deal with the same. It is surprising and very disappointing but we have heard no more from Whipps Cross on that issue since then.
This is one area where we have had some disappointments. We had a significant case against a trade union that employed one of our members. We are very much aware that there was a great deal of interest in this case but in the end we reached a settlement and the nature of that settlement completely restricts what we are able to report in that regard.
And this is the only area where there has been a fall off of membership. We have had some delays in getting a branch established of Associate Members (i.e. those who act as full time lay reps for other trade unions) and membership of those directly employed by trade unions has decreased, albeit by a very small amount.
Bullying in the workplace
Unfortunately this still continues. It is difficult if not impossible to simply switch off when the working day finishes and the stress and anxiety caused by bullying can have a debilitating impact upon the recipients and their families. We have a number of good (or is it bad) examples of members of management using (or misusing) their position to pick on and bully staff. That bullying is then taken to a different level and those members of management then look to use all of the systems, resources and protection of their institution to continue with that bullying.
We have mentioned above our view that institutionalised sexism is rife within the NHS and we have also referred to issues of race at a particular Hospital. Unfortunately it does not stop there. We also have examples within various NHS employers of duties to those with disabilities being completely ignored. It now seems to be becoming common practice for NHS employers not to always follow the route of full, open and competitive process when recruiting but to slot people in and/or to create person specifications that are fitted around individuals rather than jobs. One example of someone being slotted in involves the spouse of a very senior member of staff at a Hospital Trust. We have also had a comment from a Human Resources Director that their Trust was probably institutionally racist because most of its cleaning staff are black and they are paying them more than they might get if they worked for a supermarket or a like employer.
It is a complete anathema for us to simply to look to recruit more members only for the sake of it. We have relied mainly on reputation and word of mouth and I am pleased to say that our numbers are increasing. But as said above, we need to move away from being simply on the back foot and responding to the actions of the employer and to do that we need to have a reasonable presence within the workplace. We can only do that if we have fair number of members in those workplaces.
Membership application forms, subscription rates and our rules can be obtained by an email to me at:- firstname.lastname@example.org
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I will always be happy to meet up with those who might like more information about ATUPPS.
The aim of ATUPPS is to be actively involved in representing members on the issues that affect them at their workplace. This means if members have any issues of concern at work then we look to provide full and early support. Quite simply we are not large enough at the moment to provide 24 hour support but by the same token we don't work 9 'til 5, Monday to Friday and our existing members will know that our full and early support is readily offered.
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