Threat of strike over outsourcing of council service

UNISON members protesting outside a council meeting in 2015, when outsourcing of learning disability accommodation services was on the cards
UNISON members protesting outside a council meeting in 2015, when outsourcing of learning disability accommodation services was on the cards

Dozens of staff working for the council’s learning disability accommodation service could go on strike, after a decision to outsource the service to charity Grace Eyre on July 1.

UNISON, along with the GMB, said it has raised ‘multiple concerns at every level’ over the decision, which will see up to 50 staff move over to the charity. It also said its members had not been consulted properly over the move.

Sue Beatty, UNISON branch secretary for Brighton and Hove, said: “Whilst it is impossible to ignore the financial pressures which face the council, their decision does not look beyond a desire to reduce the cost of these services.”

She added there were fears over pension schemes, and of being transferred out of the council.

Kelly Hannah-Rogers, UNISON full-time official, said: “It is unprecedented for a local authority not to consult ahead of a privatisation.”

The union is calling for a three-month delay in the transfer, to allow for a ‘proper consultation’ process.

The council said ‘the terms and conditions of staff transferring to Grace Eyre are protected under TUPE arrangements, including pensions, and that it has engaged with staff and trade union representatives.

A spokesperson for the council said: “Grace Eyre is a well-known and respected local charity with an excellent track record in providing high quality care and support in this area.

“We are concerned to hear of the suggestion of industrial action. While we need to ensure best value for taxpayers, the quality of care for service users with learning disabilities is our top priority. We are confident that the care offered from Grace Eyre will be at least as good and in many respects even better than that offered under council management.”

A spokesperson for Grace Eyre said: "We are aware of the unions’ concerns, and the fact that the issue was raised formally with the council. We also understand that, at the final hearing, the concerns were found to be unsubstantiated and it was found that due process was followed.

"We were honoured to be awarded this contract through a fair process and we are looking forward to welcoming the new staff to our organisation. Grace Eyre will not change any terms and conditions for incoming staff, as these are protected under TUPE legislation. Grace Eyre is a ‘Real’ Living Wage Employer and holds Investors in People Gold accreditation. Pension arrangements will be maintained for individuals transferring into employment at Grace Eyre. We are committed to high quality terms and conditions for our staff and we value the difference that they make in people’s lives.

"Grace Eyre have met with staff, families, managers and the local authority over a four month period to plan the transfer of these services. Our priority is to ensure that there will not be any disruption to the day to day lives of people with learning disabilities who live in these services. The consultation with staff, service users and their families, friends and advocates will continue after the transfer on July 1."