There can be no doubt that having fair and robust disciplinary processes in place is important to the smooth running of local authorities.
That’s why UNISON is involved in negotiating these policies, as well as advising staff throughout any disciplinary issues and representing employees at subsequent hearings.
But perhaps what is more important is having the opportunity to resolve any issues that arise early and stopping problems from getting anywhere near the disciplinary stage in the first place. By doing so, not only are we protecting council employees from unnecessary upset, but we’re also saving local authorities money – cash that could otherwise be spent on public services.
And that’s where good union representatives come in. Not only can they advise senior council officers on local disciplinary processes and employment law, they can also spare individuals the cost and emotional turmoil of an employment tribunal. This is why it’s vital they have the capacity to build good relationships between the employer and union.
Perhaps what is more important is having the opportunity to resolve any issues that arise early
It is always better for people to find common ground and, despite anti-union rhetoric you may sometimes hear from around Westminster, most employers recognise that working with unions can benefit both senior officers and staff alike.
Like all public services, local authorities have been hit hard by austerity and council workers have borne the brunt of funding cuts. The government has taken more than £15bn from local authorities since 2010, putting hard-working staff under immense and growing pressure.
The impact of this is twofold. Firstly, many councils have been forced to cut facility time for unions representatives. This means they have less time to get involved in disputes before they escalate to the point of no return.
Secondly, reduced funding also creates more workplace stress. Job cuts mean increased workloads for those that remain in post, which in turn can lead to employees feeling frustrated. At its most extreme this can lead to difficult situations at work.
It’s not surprising that the combination of reduced facility time and increased workloads and stress is leading to higher numbers of disciplinaries. What is needed is to tackle the root causes of these issues? In order to do that union representatives need to be given the time and space to support both their local authorities and fellow employees.
Mike Short, deputy head of local government, Unison
Mike Short: Unions must be given time and space to support councils