It’s shocking that as we start 2021, coronavirus is again sweeping through our communities, with more daily cases reported today than ever (even though the criteria was changed since the first lockdown) and hundreds of people dying every day. The responsibility for this lies firmly with the Tories – they’ve done too little, too late and have had to be forced into action all the way. The U-turns over school safety and restricting face to face education to key worker and vulnerable children demonstrates this clearly. One day all schools were safe to fully open, the next day some London schools weren’t safe, the following day no London schools were safe, a couple of days later no schools nationally were safe to fully open. Johnson may say that it was a decision made by him, but it was forced on him, not least due to the campaign by the NEU (teachers union) who had a union meeting last Sunday morning that was live streamed and viewed by 400,000 people! Locally, on New Year’s Eve when we heard that Camden was on the list where the government said all primary schools must fully open, Camden UNISON branch officers wrote to the Council Leader, the Councillor responsible for Education, the Chief Executive, the Director of Education and other senior managers to say that we disagreed with this, we believed the schools should open for key worker and vulnerable children only and that we were meeting with our stewards and members over the weekend to discuss this. We also said that we would make ourselves available to meet to discuss this over the following few days. On New Year’s Day we were meeting with the Council Leader when, after 18 hours of 2021, Johnson announced his first climbdown. There are still a lot of things we need to discuss about this lockdown though – in many ways its more Tier 4 with schools running as they were in the first lockdown. So a number of other services that were closed in March are still running face to face. We have had some meetings already this week with members in some of those areas, but if you want a meeting for UNISON members in your team then email email@example.com and we can arrange one with you. Obviously, we’d like to hear from you at the meeting on Thursday too, so come along to that with your views and ideas.
London Borough of Camden
Camden UNISON is proud to have signed up to the Camden Disability Network’s Charter, and some of our members are actively helping to co-ordinate the Network. Here Asif outlines the aims and plans of the Network and gives details of how you can get in touch and involved.
Camden Disability Network Mission Statement
Disabled staff across the organisation have recently come together to re-establish Camden Disability Network, and to support the organisation in ensuring it is inclusive of everyone’s needs, fostering a working environment that is equal for all.
“The network aims to ensure that all staff feel able to declare their disabilities and become positive role models for their disabled colleagues. Through the network we want to empower disabled staff, celebrate their talents and help them to achieve their hopes for the future.”
Camden Disability Network, November 2020
Camden Disability Network offers support for disabled staff across Camden Council. This is a safe space to express views or concerns, a platform for everyone’s voice to be heard and to influence decisions across the organisation. We will work together to ensure equal participation for all. We are committed to making the CDN a truly inclusive, equal and respectful place for disabled staff.
Camden Disability Network’s vision
We want Camden to be an organisation where staff members are not identified by their disability, but are seen as people
We want to be able see the talents and potential of all staff, regardless of their disability, and ensure that Camden provide reasonable adjustments when needed
We want all Camden Council workplaces and public spaces, as well as programs and services, to be accessible
We want to make our workplace somewhere where people with disabilities can be, and want to be, their best selves
In the immediate term we want to provide internal support to staff. In the long term we want to instigate projects to help engage the wider community of Camden and recognise the needs, interests and concerns of disabled residents.
How Camden Disability Network will help Camden to achieve this vision:
Working with HR to review HR policies, and ensure disabled staff are protected, according to the Equality Act 2010 and relevant case law
Encouraging open and honest conversations between all parts of Camden and other organisations
Increasing disability awareness
Working closely with the Rainbow Group, Camden Black Worker’s Group, and other Employee Support Groups, and Trade Unions
Promoting Disability History Month to raise awareness of disabled staff for all staff
Producing the Disability Charter
Acting as a disability and change champion
The Network’s core beliefs
Disabilities are a natural part of life. Anyone can acquire a disability at any time
Many of the difficulties faced by disabled people are a result of attitudes and environments, and not the disability itself
Disabilities positively affect and enhance the diversity of our community
The term ‘disability’ is not to be viewed as something negative, a taboo, or something which makes an individual in any well less than others
Everyone should have the opportunity to express their strengths, abilities, and talents:
Discussing disabilities is to be encouraged in order to help people
Data about disabilities is treated with confidence at all times
Summary of what Camden Disability Network has achieved so far:
Camden Disability Network aims to welcome disabled staff, colleagues who work with disabled staff or residents or communities.
Camden Disability Network Working Group aims for Executive Board overview of disability issues will cover review policies, consultation, communication, working with senior management, etc
Set up Camden Disability Network Yammer Group – If you are interested, you can join Camden Disability Network Yammer to contribute your disability, resources, ideas, stories, etc.
Heads of Services to advise Team Managers to promote the Camden Disability Network through to their members of staff
Disability History Month – 18th November 18th December 2020
Camden Disability Network is launched new Logo and email banner signature
Jenny Rowlands, Chief Executive’s statement of support for Disability History Month and Disability Network via Essentials
Promote staff personal stories i.e. if staff have a role model or anyone who has inspired them internally or externally. We are keen to promote awareness of disabled staff internally and externally through Essentials, Yammer and Twitter
Disability History Month conversation video will be on Essentials and Yammer on 18th November 2020.
Promoting training sessions: Emma Watson and Emma Chimonidou, Executive Member of Disability Network Working Group, will be running 3 x dyspraxia sessions on 19th, 24th November and 1st and 17th December 2020 during Disability History Month.
Camden Disability Network delighted to be working in partnership with Islington Disabled Staff Forum as they share the following lunch time drop in training sessions to all Camden and Islington staff.
Camden Disability Network is proud to announce that Camden Council will provide a purple light at 5PS offices on Thursday 3rd December 2020 to celebrate International Day for Disabled People and recognise disabled staff’s great achievements and value their contribution to Camden. This will include signing the Camden Disability Network’s Disability Charter as well.
Camden Disability Network Charter will be signed by Jenny Rowlands, Chief Executive and Councillor Gould, Leader on Thursday 3rd December 2020 in conjunction with the celebration of the International Day for Disabled People.
Camden Council will seek a Disability Champion role that can be used to engage/ involve with disabled staff and to raise the profile of Camden Council.
Working partnership with Islington Disabled Staff Forum
Recently we have met Islington Disabled Staff Forum to see how we can work in partnership, share information and network as it could be beneficial for our long term planning.
The government has put a cap on the amount you can get if you are made redundant at very short notice and with no meaningful consultation. Most people effected by this will be those who are made redundant who are over the age of 55. It will come into force on 4 November and means from then on, severance packages will not exceed a maximum of £95,000 in value. Although that can seem like a lot, it includes:
Statutory Redundancy Pay
Discretionary Severance Pay
Pension strain costs (see below)
Pension strain costs
Under current regulations a member made redundant or retired on the grounds of efficiency over the age of 55 has to take the pension they have earned in their current LGPS service immediately at the point of redundancy (including any previous LGPS service that a member has combined with the current service). This pension is not reduced by an early retirement factor for early payment as it would be if it was the member retiring voluntarily. The LGPS employer then must pay their LGPS fund the cost of removing the early retirement reduction. The cost is based on the member drawing their pension from their normal pension age. If they draw their pension before their normal retirement age, they are receiving their pension for longer. Depending on how early this can be very expensive and put a strain on the LGPS fund if not paid for. That is why the employer is asked to pay the fund for this cost. This is called the strain cost.
So how will this affect the £95,000 cap?
This strain cost that the employer pays will be included in the £95,000 exit cap. The cap will also include statutory redundancy pay and any other severance payments.
This means that even some low and medium paid staff may hit the cap if they have more than 30 years’ service and made redundant in their mid to late 50’s.
UNISON has consistently and strongly opposed all the above changes since they were first proposed in 2015 and will continue to do so through any means available.
UNISON is responding to the MHCLG consultation arguing that severance should not be eroded and is completely opposed to offsetting the severance payments, including Statutory Redundancy Pay, against payments to remove reductions for pensions for those over 55. This is penal and potentially discriminatory.
What can you do?
In recent email to members, we have attached letters for you to send in as part of the consultation – please do this as soon as possible. And please keep an eye on any further information we send to you in emails.
Every 5 years, all UNISON members (including retired members) have the chance to vote for our general secretary. This will be a vote by postal ballot, and you will receive the ballot paper to the address you have given UNISON. Ballot papers start going out on 28 October, so you should expect yours within the next few days. The mailing will include a covering letter, and booklet with each candidate’s election address and a list of the bodies that have nominated them, a ballot paper and a return envelope. As ever, please read all the election statements before voting.
A branch cannot tell members who they should vote for. However, all branches can nominate a candidate at a decision-making meeting of the branch, and at our branch committee meeting the decision was to nominate Hugo Pierre, and below is why:
As UNISON members, we are about to elect a new General Secretary. Our Branch decided to nominate Hugo Pierre as a candidate to stand in this election because Hugo wants our union to change into a fighting, democratic trade union prepared to meet the challenges we face as members: • National Action to fight Council cuts • National Action for NHS pay – 15% now • £15 an hour minimum wage • End privatisation and bring services back in-house • Labour Councils to set no cuts budgets • Election of Assistant General Secretaries and Regional Secretaries • Build our workplace strength • Branches have full right to campaign
If you have not received your ballot paper by 10 November, you must call UNISON Direct on 0800 0857 857 to request a replacement (have your membership number to hand if possible).
Voting in the election continues until Friday 27 November.
One of our neighbouring UNISON branches at SOAS (part of London University) has been campaigning against management plans to make almost 90 members of staff redundant at the end of this month, including cleaners, catering staff, admin and library workers.
At the Camden UNISON branch committee meeting in September, we agreed to support their planned strike action against the compulsory redundancies. However, as they were about to start striking, management asked to meet with the UNISON branch. At the meeting, management withdrew the threat of compulsory redundancies.
This is great news for a branch that was one of the first to support our traffic wardens when they were on strike both with donations and by visiting their picket lines. We were really pleased to be able to send a message of support and our Branch Secretary, Liz Wheatley, spoke at their online victory rally.
In the coming weeks, SOAS UNISON will be launching a new Fair Workloadcampaign to ensure that all SOAS staff have manageable workloads and are appropriately paid for the duties they perform in the new structure.
SOCIAL media has had reports of members and supporters of Britain First, a far right organisation founded by former BNP members, going to a hotel in Camden where homeless people are now being accommodated to keep them safe from coronavirus and try to set them on the road to permanent housing.
They turned up at the hotel with the mistaken belief that it was being used to house asylum seekers.
As a trade union Camden Unison has long campaigned against fascism and racism.
The recent Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted racism in society and we fully support that movement, campaigning for an end to institutional racism as well as challenging racist activities.
Organisations like Britain First try to capitalise on the scapegoating climate created by politicians like Boris Johnson and Donald Trump.
These politicians spend their time trying to persuade us to blame Black or Muslim people for the problems in society from unemployment to homelessness rather than blaming them, the real creators of austerity.
Had the hotel housed asylum seekers and refugees, our response would be that they are welcome here.
People do not flee their homes, putting their lives at risk in the hands of traffickers, live in unsanitary conditions in camps or try to cross seas on flimsy boats unless they are desperate and need a chance to start a new life.
Seeking asylum is not illegal. The rich are able to move their millions around the globe so that they can make even more money, often at the expense of those seeking asylum, and live in tax havens to avoid contributing to the National Health Service or our schools.
Yet asylum seekers and refugees when given the opportunity are often the people who keep those valued parts of society afloat – where would our NHS be today without the contribution of migrant workers?
At a time when fascist organisations are trying to grow on the back of both the pandemic and the prospect of one of the deepest recessions in our lifetime, it’s important that we say asylum seekers and refugees are welcome here. Britain First and their like are not.
LIZ WHEATLEY Branch Secretary PHOEBE WATKINS Branch Chair and the following Camden UNISON Branch Officers: KATHY ANIFOWOSE ISRA FEISAL PHIL LEWIS CLAIRE MARRIOTT CLAUDIO MUNZI ADEJARE OYEWOLE HUGO PIERRE VINOTHAN SANGARAPILLAI JACQUI WALLACE
Camden UNISON sending solidarity greetings to Tower Hamlets UNISON on their strike against imposed changes to their contracts. It is particularly galling when the workers – many of them key workers were clapped for their work during the pandemic only to be “rewarded” with a slap of worse contracts and pay cuts
Recent weeks have shown that racism still runs through society – at the hands of the police, in the workplace, in education – it’s in every part of our lives. We are witnessing a huge movement challenging that, but it’s not the first time this has happened. The civil rights movement that reached its height in the 1960s in the US changed society for Black people and inspired later generations. Alongside the movement in the streets, a ‘soundtrack’ developed – from Sam Cooke to the Staple Singers, music and protest were intertwined.
Camden UNISON has organised this online event where we will be discussing the link between soul music and the civil rights movement with Yuri Prasad, author of A Rebel’s Guide To Martin Luther King, and of course looking at the relevance of this movement for today. Roger McKenzie, UNISON Assistant General Secretary, will introduce the event, and we are excited to be joined by Michael Brown, a Black Lives Matter activist from Long Beach, California. Sponsored by a number of UNISON branches and other bodies, this is part of Camden UNISON’s work to promote Stand Up To Racism and the campaigning they do. Please do put it in your diary and join us for the event.
Camden UNISON has long been actively challenging racism in the workplace and the wider community. We have marched against the far right Nazis like Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (better known as ‘Tommy Robinson’), we have marched against police brutality here and around the world.
The murder of George Floyd last week by Minnesota police showed that although much has changed since the civil rights and Black power movements associated with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, there is still a lot to be done. We stand with those protesting to say Black Lives Matter and in opposition to a president who threatens to use military force against them.
Institutional racism is built into every aspect of society and as well as discriminating against people based on the colour of their skin, it also makes racists and racist organisations more confident. We are proud that Camden UNISON has been at the forefront of challenging this. As a trade union we want to see a better, fairer society. That means organising and resisting to end the low pay and poverty that is experienced in particular by our Black members, but also fighting for a world free from the racism and bigotry that can divide us.
On Wed 17 June we are holding an online event, Soul and the Civil Rights Movement and we would urge you to join it. We would also like you to join in with the ‘Take A Knee’ protest this Wednesday, 3 June, on your doorstep (details in the Stand Up To Racism link below).
The Government have put Camden UNISON members in schools at risk by asking schools to open from 1st June. On 28th May they explained that there were probably 4 times as many new cases than the official number of positive tests, the majority of infectious people passed on the disease prior to showing symptoms or were asymptomatic and they were just launching their test, track and trace system which experts believe is fundamental to the wider opening of schools.
Camden UNISON members met to discuss the opening and raised a number of issues. See our Q&A response. This should help you to organise workplace meetings to decide if it’s safe to open your school.
Are You Safe If You’re School Opens to Wider Groups of Children
Is it Safe to Open Schools on 1st June?
On Thursday 28th June the Government confirmed they would reopen schools when the science isn’t there to say it is safe. They admitted the numbers infected each day were 4 times higher than those tested and they only knew who 25% of the newly infected were; that the virus was more infectious before people showed symptoms than after they showed symptoms; and many infectious people showed no symptoms at all.
After our meeting on Thursday 21st UNISON HQ forwarded evidence from the Independent SAGE Committee who produced an interim report on whether it was safe to open schools to a wider group of children.
Their report said that two major factors needed to be in place for it to be safe for schools to open wider for staff, parents and the wider community:
Low COVID-19 infections in the local community
The ability to respond rapidly to any new infections through a ‘test, track and isolate’ strategy.
They conclude that it is not safe because neither are in place. In Camden especially the second point. They further conclude that every two weeks the risk of infection is halved. The Government also announced that ‘Test, Track and Trace’ will begin from 1st June.
I have written to Councillor Mason to ask her to advise schools not to open until 15th June. She has responded to say that she will not and let schools make their individual decisions.
You should now have access to a UNISON letter that allows you to write to the school to say that you do not believe it is safe for schools to open to more children. This letter protects your right o not work if you are in imminent danger.
Is it the Law that schools have to open on June 1st?
No, the Government made clear that if their five tests were met then schools should begin to open from 1st June. They have made clear to all education Trade Unions, including UNISON, that opening from that date is an aspiration and not legally enforceable. School’s do not have to open on that date, in that week or in that month.
Who will carry out the Risk Assessments in my school?
This work will probably be done by the Headteacher in conjunction with SLT and a member of the Governing Body to start off with. However you must be consulted on the Risk Assessment and you are entitled to receive UNISON advice and propose amendments to their plan. It is best if school support staff agree the amendments they want to put as a group.
Can the union request all Heads provide their risk assessments and return plans to their staff
As above, you must be consulted on the draft Risk Assessment and get a final copy. When you receive the final version you should ask UNISON to give you advice on whether it is safe for you to return to school.
If my partner has a health problem, can the school force me to come to work? My son has asthma and I want to keep him home but may have to take unpaid leave to stay home or work part-time?
UNISON has a national agreement that should be reflected in your school’s Risk Assessment. If you live with someone or care for someone who is ‘shielded’ or is vulnerable if they catch COVID-19 then you can only come to work if the school can operate stringent social distancing. If they can’t you should work from home. If that’s not possible you should remain at home.
Your doctor will tell you whether any illness of someone you live with makes them vulnerable or shielded.
The school should assess the risk to you and include travel to work. You must continue to receive full pay. If you have any problems with the school because of this, please contact UNISON.
Can I refuse to work if you don’t feel comfortable with going back to school? I haven’t any underlying health issues
If you feel your Health & Safety is at risk then you can. Please see below what are my health & safety rights?
Can someone refuse to come into work if they are worried about traveling into work?
Travelling to work is part of the risk assessment. You should discuss your arrangements with the school especially if you have to travel by public transport. The Government is recommending that you should not travel by public transport at the moment because it carries an additional risk. If you feel that risk is too high you should let the school know and ask if there are alternatives to travelling into school.
You should have an individual risk assessment for travel if you have to use public transport.
Can office staff continue to work remotely if it is decided schools will open on the 1st June?
The school could allow this to continue. The school is opening for wider groups of children not for it to perform admin functions. If you can work from home and the school can manage a reception service then there is no need for all the office staff to return to work on the school site. You should discuss this but let UNISON know if there are any problems.
I’m worried that if I stay self-isolating and there are job cuts in September it would be used against me
Of course it will be difficult to show the link. However if you are not at work for health & safety reasons then legally they cannot treat you in a detrimental way.
Are there any additional procedures for BME members, who are supposedly 4 times more likely to die if they contract COVID-19?
Yes there are. UNISON has asked schools to include a point in the risk assessment that individual risk assessments are carried out for Black staff and for those from an economically more deprived household. The evidence shows that staff in these categories are more likely to suffer serious illness or death.
The school should make sure they discuss any additional health risks and fully take into account any concerns you have. If you are still not satisfied with these steps you can make a decision on your health & safety.
Should it be a teacher per bubble? Is it ok for TA’s to teach in a bubble?
The Government say that if there aren’t enough teachers for each bubble then you can use support staff. The only support staff that can teacher under guidance from a teacher are HLTAs. If you are asked to teach a bubble without a teacher present you must ask to be paid the HLTA rate. If the school refuses then you are within you’re right to refuse to do this as it is not a reasonable request.
The bubbles are not the same as the critical workers and vulnerable children’s provision provided in schools up to now. Those provision are not full teaching. The bubbles will be.
UNISON has advised all schools that this should be clear in their planning and risk assessments.
Is it mandatory to have 2 staff per “bubble”?
It is not mandatory but it would not be wise to have less than two staff in a bubble. The staff in the bubbles cannot transfer to another group and should be self-contained. If a child needs to go to the toilet or if the member of staff needs a lunch break then another member of staff cannot take over.
Should it be one child per small desk?
The Government does not expect primary school children to stay 2m apart. However the Key Stage 2 classes should be set up so that the children are kept 2m apart. Your school’s Risk Assessment and desk layout in each classroom must space children 2m apart.
It is harder in Key Stage 1 and the Early Years. In these Years it is more important to keep the children in small consistent groups. Staff should be allocated to these groups only and not other tasks.
Will staff be expected to change nursery children’s nappies?
If you are required to provide personal care or work with children where physical intervention is needed e.g. first aid or medication that a child cannot take themselves then the school must provide you with PPE including gloves, fluid resistant face masks and aprons depending on the circumstances.
What are my health & safety rights?
You have the right not to suffer any detriment if you refuse to return to your place of work because you reasonably believe it would put you in serious or imminent danger and take that action to protect yourself or other people from that danger. This is a paraphrase of the legislation and once you have the final risk assessment we will provide you with advice on the danger you or others face and if the school’s place put you in danger.
We have asked UNISON nationally to provide you with legal advice as well.
As this is legal advice, it can only be tested in law and that means potentially an Employment Tribunal.
We are advising you to hold a meeting of members to discuss your school’s final Risk Assessment so that you can all hear the advice and then decide how you act on that advice.
Personal views of members expressed on this website are not necessarily the views of Camden UNISON, but the branch will defend the right of members to express those views.
Read our comment guidelines here