Pay & COVID Workforce Issues Update

Pay 2021 

The SJC Steering Group met with COSLA last week to discuss pay.  To say we were disappointed by that meeting would be an understatement.  

COSLA asked us to talk through our claim, which we did, despite having already done so when we presented it on the 16th December.   

Their response was to tell us that they had no mandate to make any offer at this stage and would come back to us once the Scottish Government’s budget had been finalised in March.   

We have written to all Council Leaders to outline our concerns with this approach. We will keep you updated.   

Workforce Issues Group Update 

The Workforce Issues Group met on the 18th February 2021 and covered a number of issues: 

1.    Schools return – It was noted that the Scottish Government had announced an additional £70m for local government to fund the mitigations necessary to facilitate the safe re-opening of schools.  This money is solely for this purpose and does not address the wider LG funding gap which continues to exist. 

Representations were made by several participants re the suitability of face coverings and face masks. 

The inconsistency of approach across different local authorities was discussed.

Please also encourage members to sign up to the Big Blethers taking place over the coming weeks and submit questions on their concerns in advance – this is their opportunity to express those concerns and get answers to them direct from the decision makers.  

Details here: https://professionallearning.education.gov.scot/learn/events/2021/february/public-health-blether-school-support-staff 

A copy of the e-mail issued to all UNISON members in education earlier this week can be read here: https://www.unison-scotland.org/education-elc-re-opening-monday-22-february 

2.    Vaccinations – We pressed COSLA and Scottish Government officials re vaccination prioritisation for all staff working in ASN settings.  They responded that they were limited to the JCVI prioritisation list and that there were issues re supply.  Colleagues who had attended CERG that morning indicated that they understood LAs could apply a liberal approach and encouraged this.  We will update when we have more. 

3.    Forthcoming Elections – we received a presentation from the Chair of the Electoral Management Board for Scotland, Malcolm Burr, on the safety measures being put in place to address our concerns about worker safety in the conduct of the forthcoming parliamentary elections.  It was heartening to hear from SOLACE representatives that they shared the concerns expressed and had these uppermost in their minds in the planning and preparations they were putting in place. Malcolm stated that a number of measures were being undertaken including: 

  • Expansion of postal voting to reduce the number of people turning up to polling stations. 
  • A complete review and risk assessment of all polling stations, polling places and counting places to ensure they can be, and are, adapted for the mitigations that will be necessary to protect workers during the conduct of the poll. 
  • A reduction in the number of electors allocated to each polling station (to 800) to reduce the numbers that will turn up to each. 
  • A review of polling places to ensure that where they host multiple polling stations that there are separate entry/exit points for each station and where not expanding the number of polling places. 
  • Emergency proxy voting to account for those who might have to self-isolate after the postal vote application deadline to ensure they don’t breach Covid isolation rules by turning up to a polling station. 
  • Provision of PPE, additional cleaning materials, social distancing and screens for all polling stations and counting places.  This will all take additional staff, which we flagged. 
  • Directions provided to all returning Officers stating that there should be no overnight counting of ballots – given the additional mitigations that were being out in place for the count they needed to take account of the fact that the whole process will take much longer than normal and they don’t want people doing it when they are tired. 
  • Restrictions on the numbers allowed in to the count, to only those with a statutory right to be there, and only allowing entry to those who attend a safety briefing in advance. 
  • Additional use of the police and ‘Covid Marshalls’ to help enforce mitigations. 

We asked that risk assessments were shared with local TU reps in advance and this was agreed.  We will be requesting  risk assessments from the local returning officer’s and we will flag up further concerns as members raise these with us.

It was also agreed that Malcolm Burr would give us another briefing closer to the elections so that we could raise any issues at that time. 

Expansion of asymptomatic testing 

Asymptomatic testing has now been expanded to cover close contacts of people who test positive for COVID.  As well as being asked to isolate for 10 days, these individuals will also now be asked, as a matter of course, to get tested as well. And if they then test positive, their contacts will be traced, so that more chains of transmission can be broken.  

More information here: https://www.gov.scot/news/close-contacts-to-be-offered-testing 

To UNISON members in Education

You will be aware of the Scottish Government’s intention to push on with the full re-opening of Early Years and P1-P3 education services from 22 February. 

The UNISON Stirling branch remains concerned about the pace and breadth of the plans despite the reassurances offered by the Scottish Government and the wider societal pressure to reopen schools and nurseries.  

The UNISON Stirling branch is therefore continuing to pursue discussions with Stirling Council over how this will be managed including the need to maintain robust risk assessments and the associated mitigations. The national guidance on the two metre rule should be strictly adhered to and rooms/work areas must have signage stating how many adults are permitted. This means that the capacity of services will be reduced. Guidance on ventilation and the maintenance of “bubbles” must also be strictly adhered to across the city. 

The Scottish Government have now confirmed that testing will be rolled out to everyone in stand-alone Early Years Establishments. We are pushing for the quick implementation of this. 

Those who are clinically vulnerable should not be pressurised to attend the workplace. Those in the extremely clinically vulnerable group (shielding) should not attend the workplace. 

The UNISON Stirling branch asks that members raise concerns on any of the above matters with their workplace steward or directly with the branch. The branch will give clear advice under health and safety regulations and Section 44 of the Employment Act on an individual and collective basis where necessary. We will raise matters on your behalf with local and senior management in Education and resist any breaches of agreed mitigations.  

We will do all we can to protect members at this time.