Pay “modernisation” : A bitter pill with little sugar

UNISON, alongside GMB officers, has engaged in negotiations with senior management since last September over proposals to radically alter Camden’s pay, terms and conditions.  Management’s proposals, which affect virtually all employees other than those in schools, residential care workers and craftworkers in Camden Building Maintenance, are undoubtedly sophisticated and potentially divisive.

Rather than imposing new contracts management looks to a voluntary sign-up with a modest incentive payment to all existing staff, but the key objectives are clear:
•    Cut the total pay bill by some £2 million by 2014 over and above savings resulting from the cull of more than 400 jobs since summer 2010
•    Achieve overall savings of more than £45 million between now and 2027-28
•    Introduce a direct link between pay and appraisal ratings with performance-related awards for all currently on grades SO1-PO7, which would cease in a new world of job families and pay zones.

Performance Related Pay (PRP) would, in management’s words, ‘modernise’ Camden’s approach to pay, moving away from a ‘time serving’ system of pay reward to one that ‘recognises performance’. But UNISON believes PRP would widen the gap between top and lower-paid earners, while relying on the erosion of overtime and payments for unsocial hours to underwrite the costs of PRP for those on higher grades. Such payments are currently important for the earnings of a significant minority of those on Scales 1-6

While management continues to insist it wants a negotiated settlement and voluntary sign-up, it has also made plain that it could still use so-called Section 188 powers to sack and re-engage employees on new contracts. Should this scenario unfold the branch would apply for an official strike ballot.

In any event, all new Camden recruits would be obliged to start on new terms and conditions, including a contractual 37-hour week, so creating a two-tier workforce. Likewise, anyone obtaining a promotion internally would automatically move on to the new contract.

UNISON sees the PRP proposals as a shift towards a ‘bonus’ culture, but without substantial money to fund it.  The proposition would entail more than a potential 1% pay rise for those who get a ‘good’ appraisal rating on top of any national pay award in a given year, and a little more for those who get a 4 or 5 rating as one-off, albeit pensionable, payments. Ratings will be based on the annual appraisal and current figures suggest that at least 12% of staff do not get one. Widespread scepticism already exists about managers awarding fair ratings and management’s promise of a ratings review mechanism is unlikely to ease that concern. Experience in the Civil Service and elsewhere of PRP schemes fuels suspicions of a rationing of the distribution of ‘good’ and ‘poor’ ratings. In short, UNISON considers PRP as all too likely to prove divisive and to pose a risk to the team working that is essential in many services.

As mentioned above, management also wish to remove several additional payments, which a significant minority of staff currently earn.  For example, Saturdays and Sundays would become normal working days; overtime payments for anyone on SO1 and above would cease; most bank holidays would be treated as normal working days and long service leave entitlement would be substantially reduced for new starters and existing staff with less seniority.  (See chart for more information).

The unions have signalled a willingness to discuss stricter controls on overtime where it provides cover for vacant posts (or where staffing levels do not ensure adequate service provision); a willingness to discuss extending the start and end of what is considered normal daily working (though not an extension to the 35 hour week!) and removal of the acting up/honoraria payments that often substitute for proper temporary recruitment to more responsible positions.  We remain extremely concerned, however, at the erosion of payments for what we consider unsocial working hours – weekends/evenings/bank holidays.

UNISON’s local negotiators have achieved some significant movement on aspects of the proposed changes. For example, management retreated from its original proposal for a 37-hour week across the board and pledged to retain the 35-hour week for existing staff. Bank Holiday payments that had completely disappeared are at least partly restored. Crucially, though, the lower paid in certain areas remain likely losers even with the introduction of larger compensation payments for those currently receiving payments for unsocial hours.

The branch leadership has not signed up to any deal and intends to convene an extraordinary branch meeting in the near future to further inform members and enable them to decide on where next. Meanwhile, if you want a local workplace meeting, please contact your directorate’s UNISON convenor or the branch office to arrange a speaker.

Phoebe Watkins, Co-chair

7 responses to “Pay “modernisation” : A bitter pill with little sugar

  1. Last year I had a meeting with a manager who told me that no-one ( in the team I worked in) will be getting more than a 3 rating because that may trigger a bonus payment, and the bonus pool had already been allocated (to senior managers). I am nothing but sceptical about this proposal.

  2. I cant see the Council handing out bonus’s full stop ,they will just dangle the carrot and find some excuse to give people scores that dont attact a bonus.

  3. Staff in Culture and Environment were last year told there was a policy not to award any top ratings regardless of target achievements – how can we possibly believe in a PRP system?

  4. Whenever I hear the word ‘modernisation’ my blood runs cold. It’s been used as a euphemism for privatisation in the past and is a part of the worn-out vocabulary of neoliberalism. Whilst on the one hand I realise cuts are forced on LA’s, Camden’s actions betray it’s political vision and how it intends to progress. Performance related pay is particularly philistine.

  5. Having had consistently good scores for many years I have suddenly been marked down for not doing things that were not mentioned in previous targets. I wonder if there is a connection. I have noticed increasing use of the MIP system to retrospectively change targets half way through the year. Its a pity to see good management practices collapse under the strain of the cuts. Camden is no longer a good place to work.

  6. How do management plan to deal with disputes from staff in MIP ratings and if their management set unachievable goals or ones that are inappropriate for a members pay level?

  7. Management are making up aspects of this on the hoof. At one of the sessions, a manager said that people who didn’t sign up wouldn’t be allowed to join the new appeals process. A few days later, we received an email saying we would be able to appeal. People want the right to a fair appraisal regardless of whether they get paid extra. Difficult for some managers to comprehend clearly.

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