Dear Colleague

On 5th July 2010 you will have received an individual letter from your employer, Northamptonshire County Council (NCC), along with a pack entitled “Pay and Benefits, Fair Pay for All”.  The reason that you have received the above communication directly from NCC is because of the failure to reach a collective agreement on the Pay and Benefits Package between NCC and the recognised trade unions.

The purpose of this letter to you as a GMB member is not to reiterate why or how the National Single Status agreement came into being as I think the background as to why Pay and Benefits needed to be implemented as a result of Single Status is adequately explained on page 6 of the NCC pack.  Rather, this letter outlines GMB views on the negotiation process and the reasons why we were unable to reach a collective agreement with NCC.  I intend to do this by outlining the timescale of events and then making some direct comments about information contained in the NCC pack.  I will then suggest some possibilities with regards to a response and advice for GMB members faced with the individual NCC proposals.

In February 2009 after two years of intensive negotiations NCC put what they describe as a “Best and Final Offer” (BAFO) to the recognised trade unions GMB and Unison.  It is important to say at this point that although the content of what was in the BAFO was agreed there were clearly contentious issues in the offer that would make acceptance very difficult.  The next 9 months involved both unions seeking advice from their respective legal departments on the numerous complex questions that always arise out of such a wide ranging review of pay and conditions in a local authority.  Meanwhile, progress on other issues that would form part of any final package such as the Moderation of Job Evaluation scores and the working of the Appeals procedure was maintained.  In the event this work did not get completed until April 2010. 

In December 2009 NCC asked the unions to clarify their response to the BAFO and what position the unions would take in balloting their members.  This is because to implement the Pay and Benefits package across all its workforce NCC has an obligation to try to reach a collective agreement with the recognised trade unions.

In January 2010 both GMB and Unison met with NCC to give their responses.  GMB made it clear to NCC that they hoped to ballot their members but because of issues with the offer would not be recommending it for acceptance.  In simple terms there were 4 main areas that GMB had problems with.

1. The implementation date should have been in line with the National Single Status Agreement which was for 1st April 2007.  GMB believed the local agreement should have been backdated to this date.  NCC said this was not possible due to the prohibitive cost.

2. GMB would not accept pay progression through increments that were linked to performance.  NCC said they reserved the right to implement this at a later stage.

3. GMB stated that Nursery Nurses should be left on their nationally derived 32.5 hour contracts.  NCC said they would harmonise to 37 hours so in effect this group would lose money.  GMB reiterated this did not need to happen.

4. GMB said that overall there were far too many people (28% on basic pay and 42% on total earnings) who would lose as a result of this package.  NCC said they had already put money into the lower grades and could not move on the pay structure as this would increase costs.
On this basis GMB reiterated its position that it would not recommend the package to its members.

I do not think it appropriate for the GMB to comment on Unison’s position however it was becoming clear that by April 2010 Unison felt that they were unable to ballot their numbers.

In May 2010 NCC asked for a final position from both unions on the package as it stood at that moment.

In June 2010 GMB made it clear to NCC that they would ballot their members but not with a positive recommendation for acceptance.  Unison reported that they were unwilling to ballot their members.

At a meeting on 17th June 2010 NCC reported that as it had become clear they were not going to reach a collective agreement with both trade unions they were going to remove the BAFO off the negotiating table and move to impose a reduced package directly on an individual basis.  Both unions expressed their dismay at this development.  NCC stated their intention to write to each individual employee which brings us up to date on this matter.

On behalf of GMB I would like to make a number of observations contained in the booklet itself.  In the Chief Executive’s letter on page 4 he states that “the majority of this package was agreed with local trade unions”.  This is misleading as I believe the content
of the package was agreed, this is not the same as agreeing to the package itself.  Mr Blantern appears to be implying that the unions had already agreed this on behalf of members’ which has never been the case.  As far as GMB is concerned agreement can only ever be reached by a members’ ballot.  Mr Blantern was also well aware that there were a number of issues as I have already outlined which meant that a positive recommendation from GMB would be all but impossible.

On Page 7 NCC outline their changes to the original BAFO.  What is now being proposed on pay protection, premium rates for weekend working and performance related pay progression is significantly different to what was put forward to the trade unions.  As I have stated before both unions have expressed their anger and disappointment that NCC has chosen to pursue this particular course of action.  In our view a reduction of the original package is totally unjustified and unacceptable.

So what happens next?

After failing to reach a collective agreement NCC has outlined that they wish to seek individual agreement with employees on the revised package.  My advice on this matter depends on how you are affected.  Obviously if you are better off under the proposals then you may want to accept them, which is entirely your choice.  If you do not wish to accept them then NCC will enter into consultation on the matter which may end up with, as they describe on page 17, “dismissal and re-engagement”.  The GMB will provide further guidance on this possibility in due course.

I should of course point out that if collectively union members wish to oppose this imposition then industrial action is always a possibility depending on the wishes of the members.

If you disagree with your grading then you have the right of appeal and the appeals process is outlined at page 11 of the booklet.  Please note that you have 28 days to appeal from receipt of your letter from the Council.

In conclusion I would state that the GMB are extremely unhappy that we now find ourselves and our members in this difficult position.  We had wanted to ballot our members on the original offer, it has to be said without a positive recommendation, but this option was removed from us due to forces beyond our control.  The fact that NCC has now chosen to seek individual agreement on a reduced package is regrettable but we can only deal with the reality of this situation as it stands now.

GMB will continue to try to represent its members’ best interests through the coming weeks and months although I do not underestimate the difficult situation that many people now face.

Finally, I believe that there is one outstanding issue which needs to be addressed for those staff on term time contracts in schools.  GMB believes there may be a problem with how the amount of bank holidays and pay has been calculated in the past.  NCC had as part of the BAFO made proposals on how these calculations would be done in the future but made no admission of liability for what has happened in the past.  GMB wish to explore legally whether any claim can be pursued on this particular matter but to proceed with this course of action we would need individual members to come forward so that we can gather the information required.  If you are on a term time contract and you think this may affect you and you would like the GMB to explore this matter on your behalf would you complete the attached pro forma and return it to this office completing as much information as you can.  We will then inform members how best to proceed from there.

I realise that many of you will be concerned by these events but I thank you for your continued support through this difficult situation.

Yours sincerely

David Shamma


Enc:  pro forma