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IMPORTANT EXPENSES ADVICE FOLLOWING REMOVAL OF ECU ALLOWANCE

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Dear Member

Please see the model letter for individual UNISON members to use when dealing with managers in relation to the withdrawal of personal vehicles for Council business.  This can be downloaded as Model ECU word document here, or in Model ECU letter pdf format here.

This follows information which has been brought to UNISON's attention this morning. An email from HR has been forwarded to managers who have then cascaded it to staff and is in relation to the Council's Expenses Policy.

It states that, in accordance with the Expenses Policy, staff should not be reimbursed from petty cash. This is a red herring. This only applies to expenses which have already been incurred.

The Council is putting pressure on UNISON members to provide their own money - in effect, their own petty cash - to pay for transport. We strongly urge people to be resolute and refuse to do this.

We are urging you NOT to use your own money to pay for alternative transport. You are under no contractual obligation to do so. If Council departments have not made arrangements for how they will deal with the refusal of staff to use their vehicles, then that is their responsibility.

They have had a significant period to prepare for this, so we ask people not to make the situation easier for the Council.

This action will only work if members refuse to use their cars en masse and also refuse to use their own money to pay for transport. It is the only way the Council will be forced to see that their policy to take approximately £1,000 off you per year is a mistake.

If staff use their car for Council business or pay up front for travel expenses, it will undermine our effectiveness.

We must remain united!

Regards

 

Dave Dickinson

BRANCH SECRETARY

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Essential Car User (ECU) - Call for Action

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UNISON URGES MEMBERS NOT TO USE THEIR VEHICLES ON COUNCIL BUSINESS FROM NOVEMBER 1ST

UNISON is calling on all members who formerly received Essential Car User (ECU) allowance to stop using their car for Council business from the 1st of November.

This follows Blackpool Council deciding to terminate all Essential Car User (ECU) payments from that date when everyone will then be classed as ‘casual’ car users. The information seems to have been sent to those who have signed up to the buy-out. (NB: The Council has informed UNISON that the buy-out will be extended to all staff who lost their entitlement to ECU following the compliance review in 2017.)

UNISON has consistently stated that the Council’s decision to withdraw the allowance is a huge mistake. Not only is it unfair in expecting staff to continue to use their car without being paid an allowance for wear and tear, damage etc, but it would also be more costly to pay staff to use alternative modes of transport.

In meeting after meeting with the Council, we have repeatedly argued that the withdrawal of ECU is a false economy. The only way of demonstrating this now is for staff to exercise their contractual right to not use their vehicles for work business.

The responsibility for this state of affairs lies squarely with the Council. The onus, therefore, is on the Council to continue to provide services to the public at the same level of efficiency as when staff were paid the ECU allowance. Members, in exercising their right to not use their own car, should simply state to their manager that they will not be using their car for work business. We will not tolerate any attempts by managers to encourage, cajole or threaten staff into using their vehicles for work if they have clearly stated that they will not use it.

UNISON must stress that voluntarily withdrawing the use of your own car is not industrial action as staff are no longer contractually obliged to provide or use their car for work. You will not be refusing to travel or carry out your duties but the Council will have to put an alternative in place to facilitate any travel that you have to undertake.

While we acknowledge that there will be occasions when members will find it difficult to not use their car, the only way we can have a significant impact is to consistently refuse to use it. 

We have complied a document, "Information For UNISON Members Who Are Casual Car Users", which addresses the issues you may experience in refusing to use your car..  This can be downloaded here.

The strength of a union is its members willingness to fight back against unfair working practices. We urge you to stop using your car for FREE and to encourage staff who aren’t UNISON members to join and to take part.

If you have any questions, please contact the branch on 01253 478492 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

A .pdf copy of this notice can be downloaded here.

 

Dave Dickinson

BRANCH SECRETARY

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Essential Car User (ECU) Update - Council's latest ECU buy-out letter

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Dear Members

In the next few days, you may receive a letter from the Council. It is being sent only to those who refused to sign up to the Essential Car User (ECU) buy-out. The letter in simple terms is just another request for you to voluntarily sign up to the buy-out with the threat, as before, that if you do not sign up voluntarily then the Council will dismiss and re-engage you anyway to force the removal of ECU. UNISON produced this advice sheet from the last voluntary buy-out offer which is still applicable in general terms (you can also downlaod the .pdf version here).

UNISON must tell you, however, that the Council’s letter contains a disgraceful deceit. Specifically, it states:

"We are aware that you did not sign by the original buy-out deadline and one of the reasons for this may have been as a result of UNISON advising that a dispute had been lodged. Now that the dispute process has concluded we would like to offer you the opportunity to accept the Council's buyout of £625 gross (circa £500 net) by signing and returning the attached slip by Friday August the 10th 2018."

The dispute has NOT concluded. Far from it; UNISON has notified the Council that a Trade Dispute exists and this has not been withdrawn by UNISON. The Trade Dispute still exists and it is in furtherance of that Trade Dispute that UNISON can ballot for formal industrial action. There can be no reason why the Council would come to the conclusion that the dispute has concluded. UNISON therefore believe that this is a lie.

The intention of the Council is clear. It seeks to persuade those, who have courageously refused to be bought off by the Council's paltry offer, and convince them that UNISON has given up and called off the dispute.

UNISON believe that this is the latest in a series of acts of bad faith by the Council. Last year, while UNISON sought to discuss new criteria for ECU, the Council was already drawing up its 2018/19 budget to make a £265k saving from ceasing the allowance.

We are again asking members to NOT sign up to the buy-out. If the Council moves to 'dismiss and re-engage' those who refuse to sign, all terms and conditions will remain the same. The only difference will be that they are then casual car users with no obligation to use their car for work purposes.

UNISON believe that the cheapest and most efficient way to provide Council services is to pay the current allowance to those staff who need a car for their job. The only way to show the Council that this is the case is to cease using your own car for work. If any action is implemented it must be widely supported and will mean escalating costs for the Council.

Going forward, UNISON held a members' meeting on Thursday at which we agreed to suggest to those who have had their ECU allowance removed already if they want to exercise their contractual right to not use their own car for work. This would be in anticipation of the outcome of any industrial action ballot for those currently in receipt of ECU. (To be clear, any casual car user can withhold the use of their car for work purposes immediately as you are not under a contractual obligation to use your own car for work. Those who are still in receipt of ECU have to be covered by a lawful industrial action ballot before they can withhold the use of their car as they are contractually bound to use their car.)

We would like to ask members who are casual car users whether they would prefer to act now in withdrawing the use of their car or if they would prefer to wait until the outcome of an industrial action ballot is known.  Please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to let us know your preference 

For any action - whether that is by casuals or those still in receipt of ECU - UNISON will give comprehensive advice on what to do. We will also support you 100% with any issues related to implementing a 'work to rule' or industrial action.

We will provide further updates in the next days and please contact us if you have any other queries.

Regards

Dave Dickinson

Branch Secretary

UNISON Blackpool Local Government Branch  

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Vote on Council's Essential Car User (ECU) Offer

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Dear member

To update you on the result of the ballot, the votes were as follows:

Reject: 147
Accept: 15

This is obviously an unambiguous rejection of the offer.

It was made clear in the email accompanying the ballot that a rejection would mean that UNISON would swiftly move to carry out a legal ballot on industrial action. (We held an indicative ballot which voted 92% in favour of industrial action but will now have to carry out the formal ballot.)

We will now move to:

  • ballot all staff currently in receipt of ECU
  • organise staff who were formerly receiving ECU to withdraw the use of their vehicles for work duties

To clarify, we cannot advise members who are in receipt of ECU to not use their vehicle until they are covered by a ‘YES’ vote in a formal industrial action ballot. Otherwise, they would be in breach of contract.

For everyone else - those formerly receiving ECU – they are casual car users and are, therefore, under no contractual obligation to use their car. We now want to organise these former ECU recipients into an organised and systematic campaign to cease using their cars on Council business.

We have chosen this course of action so that there is no unnecessary delay while waiting for an industrial action ballot to be organised.
However, before implementing it, UNISON wants to discuss how we will organise the next steps and how it can be carried out with all those affected by the ECU issue.

We have organised an urgent meeting which will take place at:

5.15pm,  Thursday, 26th of July, Upstairs Function Room, Blackpool Cricket Club, West Park Drive

 

Thanks

Dave Dickinson

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Further Advice to UNISON members on Essential Car User (ECU)

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Dear Member

We have reached a critical time in the ongoing dispute between UNISON and Blackpool Council in relation to the proposed removal of Essential Car User allowance. The Council has declared that consultation has been exhausted and has issued letters seeking to encourage staff to vary terms and conditions of employment by means of a buy-out. Compared to the allowance paid each year, the offer is paltry - a one-off payment of £625 (£500 net).
(An attachment to this email outlines the issues in more detail, but below are the crucial issues.)

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COUNCIL LETTERS - ESSENTIAL CAR USER

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Dear Member,

As you are aware, the Council has issued letters to consult you individually to vary your terms and conditions of employment. You should also know that UNISON has advised members not to sign any variation.

Our recent indicative ballot showed a vote of 92% in favour of taking some form of industrial action to retain it. Signing the variation will undermine any attempt to retain the Essentia Car User allowance because those who sign up cannot take part in the formal ballot for industrial action.

As trade union members, our only strength is in acting together as one collective unit. Accepting the employer's offer will divide us.

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Open Letter to Blackpool Council's Chief Executive, Neil Jack - Essential Car User allowance

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Dear Neil,

I am writing to you as Unison Branch Secretary in relation to the Council’s proposal to withdraw the Essential Car User (ECU) allowance from all employees currently in receipt of it. From our brief conversation following the Scrutiny Committee meeting on Friday, I am encouraged that you would like to meet to further discuss the issue. However, I must also reply to your previous correspondence in order to respond to your points and to clarify UNISON’s position.

Firstly, I must say that I am very disappointed at the Council’s approach to the issue of Essential Car User allowance. Unfortunately, its position can now be simplified to that of having budgeted for a cut of £265K to be achieved by abolishing the allowance, and that the budget is now reliant on making this cut. The Council has refused to look at this again and are suggesting that, if UNISON do not agree with the proposal, then we should propose an alternative cut which will harm staff and/or services. We do not consider this to be meaningful consultation. As you know, UNISON are in the business of trying to make the working conditions of employees better, not worse. Nor are we in the position of implementing failed Tory austerity, imposed on Blackpool by this and previous governments. Further, we now have the prospect of a Labour Council threatening redundancies or ‘dismissal and re-engagement’ if staff do not agree to these cuts to their terms and conditions.

Dialogue Between UNISON and the Council:

UNISON has, over the last year, sought to engage constructively, despite the Council having implemented an ECU criteria, which had not been agreed with the trade unions. That review saw many employees, whose jobs clearly require the use of a car, lose their ECU allowance. Since then, we have discussed the issue with the Leader and yourself. As part of those discussions, we agreed that we would both look at some new criteria. Yet, at no point has the Council proposed any reasonable alternatives since the review took place.

The Council’s Proposal to Remove ECU:

At our meeting on November the 29th, you informed us of your proposal to remove the Essential Car User allowance, and to place all those employees currently in receipt of it on the casual mileage rate. You suggested that the removal of ECU would make a saving of £265k. Knowing that both sides were in the process of discussing new criteria, the Council has now declared that those savings must be made before any such criteria can been agreed. This is a clear change in your position. Further, it is asking the trade union where it thinks the axe should fall. That is not the responsibility of any trade union, and we will not allow ourselves to be put in such a position.

If the Council had wanted to make the required savings, and to act in good faith, it would have put the ECU negotiations to one side and not included it in its savings target. The Authority was well aware of the likely level of cuts for 2018/19, and has changed its budgeting process to one covering several years to take account of anticipated cuts to funding. UNISON does not accept, therefore, that “things have now moved on”, as you state in your correspondence. The fact that the Council has gone ahead and decided to make £265k worth of savings by potentially withdrawing the allowance, suggests, to any reasonable person, that it has been consulting in bad faith.

UNISON’s Proposed Criteria:

In January, after UNISON had consulted with its affected members, we submitted our proposal for new ECU criteria. We consider it to be a sensible way of identifying those employees who need a car for their role. In fact, it is based on similar criteria in another local authority in Lancashire. Disappointingly, the Council has, as stated above, responded by saying that it will not consider it until UNISON identifies savings totalling £265k.

UNISON members are angry and disappointed by this whole situation because, for the past few years, it is only the hard work of staff which has kept essential public services running for the people of Blackpool, despite ever decreasing resources. Staff already contribute their fair share and have seen the real value of their pay fall by 21% since 2009. Many have also agreed to take unpaid leave and seen increased car parking charges in recent years.

‘Impact on Service Delivery’:

Under this heading in your letter, you suggest that there is an obligation on staff to ‘perform their role effectively’, and that, if employees did choose to not use their car for work, they themselves would have to “ensure that this does not impact on service to vulnerable residents.” I must remind you that it is the Council’s suggestion to make this change. Therefore, UNISON will not accept any suggestion that staff, who may have ECU status withdrawn, and would, therefore, no longer be required to use their car for work, are to blame for not performing the “full duties of their role effectively.” Any difficulties caused by a significant increase in the use of taxis, buses, trains, or overnight stays, will be as a consequence of the Council’s decision to remove the allowance. Staff will continue to work as effectively and efficiently as they can with different modes of transport. As it will be the Council’s responsibility for prompting staff to no longer use their own vehicles, senior management should be aware that they will have to address any inefficiencies and added cost implications.

UNISON would request from the Council what contingency plans have been put in place to deal with any potential withdrawal of the use of employees’ vehicles. How much impact, in terms of greater inefficiency, does the Authority think it will have on its service users? In terms of costings, how much will it cost for the anticipated use of taxis, buses, trains, and overnight stays? In addition, what arrangements have been put in place to ensure that affected departments have the petty cash available to pay for those different modes of transport up front, rather than it coming out of the pockets of its staff?

Alternative Savings:

You state that the withdrawal of the ECU allowance was one option being considered. UNISON would like to know what the proposed alternative savings are. As wage costs are a now significantly reduced portion of Council expenditure, I assume that those alternatives do not exclusively involve cuts to staffing.

Pay Claim:

We are aware of the proposed NJC Pay Award for 2018 and 2019, which will add a further budget pressure. However, that offer was made as a result of Labour members of the Local Government Association voting in favour of it so it seems reasonable to assume that they would have known that any extra funding would have to come from existing Council monies.

Summary:

UNISON believes and expects that, as an NJC Council, Blackpool should maintain NJC terms and conditions contained in the Green Book, which clearly contains the Essential Car User allowance. And, further, it is clear that ECU staff are those whose duties are of such a nature that it is essential for them to have a motor car at their disposal whenever required. This is, and has always been, the basis of UNISON’s position. If the job needs a car, then the Essential Car User allowance should be paid.

Again, it is worth reiterating how disappointing it is for a Labour Council to use the threat of redundancies or ‘dismissal and re-engagement’ to seek to force staff to accept detrimental changes to their working conditions. It is also worth noting that the proposed budget, as is, results in 50 redundancies, 20 staff on fixed term contracts leaving plus a further 40 vacancies being deleted. Despite the sacrifices, staff have made, there are still job losses. UNISON are not in the business of seeking to worsen terms and conditions or make cuts and should point out that it is the Council who have a team of financially qualified staff to model other savings but notwithstanding that UNISON is of course looking at the Council’s budget.

UNISON will consult widely with members on any proposal made by the Council as to any next steps.

In the meantime, I look forward to meeting with you to discuss the issues involved.

Yours Sincerely

Dave Dickinson

Branch Secretary
UNISON Blackpool Local Government Branch

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