After refusing to answer emails and with little progress being made on the key issues, UNISON has approached ACAS for mediation in Housing at Lambeth Council.
UNISON have declared a state of trade dispute with Lambeth Housing Management, a formal declaration that serious issues need to be worked out and a necessary prelude to any further trade union action (demonstrations, strike ballot etc.) The original declaration was at the very end of July and at first management responded quite quickly and satisfactorily. Ruth Cashman (Branch Secretary) and Dan Jeffery (A senior steward in Housing) attended a meeting with the then head of corporate HR, Jonathan Evans a week later and at this meeting it was finally agreed that the “pilot” being conducted in generic working in the Central Area was inappropriate and was to be discontinued immediately. This however was the last meaningful action from management in response.
On 15th of September Dean Shoesmith, who succeeded to the post of head of corporate HR (in an acting capacity) offered a response on the outstanding issues, which were the performance management system, flexible working arrangements, short term contracts for sheltered housing workers and the widespread practice of managers taking no notice of HR recommendations.
On performance management they offered a few small tweaks to the system. Our central objection was that an entire separate and additional system for housing alone was discriminatory and unjustified.
On flexible working they tried to justify their current stance by a mistaken interpretation of policy. We pointed out the mistake.
On the short term contracts, a very minimal concession of an extension to 2018 without addressing the main issue. We made this point as well.
On Occupational Health recommendations to work flexi that are then ignored, they offered nothing at all. We drew their attention to this.
Eamon Maguire the Housing Convenor responded with a reasoned trade union position on 22nd of September with the points as outlined above.
On the 28th UNISON received the following:
Thank you for your email and responses to my previous email. Neil and I are meeting next week to work through your further points and we will aim to respond to you later next week in detail and look to hold a meeting with Unison representatives thereafter with the aim of resolving the dispute.
This was the last communication we received on this issue. Maguire requested that the trade dispute be included in the agenda for the scheduled meeting with the Housing director (Neil Wightman) and HR and the trade union representatives (Unison and the others) on 5th October. However, without prior notice, both the director and Dean Shoesmith declined to attend.
It seems obvious that we will have to increase the pressure on management in order to make any kind of progress at all on these and any other issues in housing (and there are a few).
UNISON have already requested the involvement of ACAS, the conciliation service, but the other options we will consider include; staging demonstrations at the various workplaces in housing to highlight senior management’s outrageously high handed and careless attitude to legitimate concerns; conducting an indicative ballot on strike action and anything else that will see improvement on these legitimate concerns being resolved.