‘Arrogant’ Tory county council refuses to enter agreement with union

County Hall, ChichesterCounty Hall, Chichester
County Hall, Chichester
A government arbitration committee has been asked to step in after West Sussex County Council refused to voluntarily enter a recognition agreement with Unison.

This would have formalised existing unwritten recognition of the trade union, but also provide clarity for annual pay award arrangements for a small group of around 500 staff, most of whom are managers.

Their pay is currently consulted on locally, without negotiation and bargaining by Unison, unlike for thousands of other council and schools support staff across West Sussex.

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At a meeting of the governance committee on Monday, most members voted against the recommendation to enter into the agreement, with Conservative leader Paul Marshall declaring: “There is not the evidence to show that there is wide support for this.”

A report from Sue Evans, the interim director of human resources, said a voluntary agreement with Unison would be ‘a constructive step in rebuilding a relationship that had become strained’.

The committee’s decision appeared to add to that strain, with Dan Sartin, branch secretary of Unison West Sussex,  branding the council ‘arrogant’.

Mr Sartin said Unison had now contacted the government’s Central Arbitration Committee to start a statutory process to impose the recognition agreement on the council.

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He added: “Only the worst employers have to be dragged to the Central Arbitration Committee, and West Sussex County Council is very sadly happy to keep their company.”

Recalling the ‘bullying culture’ described by Department for Education commissioner John Coughlan last year, Mr Sartin said the council had ‘a deep-rooted cultural problem with how it treats its workforce’.

There have been many changes at County Hall since Mr Coughlan’s report was published – including a new chief executive and a new leader – but Mr Sartin said the governance committee had ‘rejected’ a chance to ‘put things right’.

He added: “That’s not how you run a complex, modern public services council, and does not bode well for the future.”

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Mr Sartin pointed out that written recognition agreements are in use at councils all across Sussex and suggested the decision was coming from a ‘deeply held ideological position’.

Unison acknowledges Ms Shaw is a ‘very capable leader whom staff and the union can trust and have faith in’, but he thought staff would find it ‘arrogant’ of councillors to reject her recommendations.

He added: “It does not say anything positive about the council, its political leadership, or ability to improve itself that councillors would reject her advice. That councillors don’t yet understand this shows how far there is to go.”

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