Fenland council boss believes UNISON dispute ‘seems both unreasonable and premature’ but union remains ‘unhappy’ at approach taken

Paul Medd, chief executive Fenland Council.

Paul Medd, chief executive Fenland Council. - Credit: Archant

Chief executive Paul Medd says a union’s action in announcing a ‘formal dispute’ with Fenland Council “seems both unreasonable and premature”.

Vicky Cooper, branch secretary of the UNISON Fenland branch, pictured last year at a Peterborough UN

Vicky Cooper, branch secretary of the UNISON Fenland branch, pictured last year at a Peterborough UNISON rally. - Credit: Archant

In a letter to councillors, which followed an earlier one sent by UNISON detailing their grievances, Mr Medd says Fenland Council has always enjoyed a “productive working relationship with UNISON. It is with the most sincere regret and disappointment they have chosen to pursue such a dispute”.

The argument centres on a bid by the council to reduce the influence enjoyed by UNISON in representing both their members and the rest of the staff working for the council.

Vicky Cooper, UNISON branch secretary at Fenland Hall, insists they are happy to discuss the proposed changes but are “not happy with the approach taken in this instance”.

Ms Cooper claims the council has breached an existing signed agreement on how to handle staff changes and claims the proposals “undermines efforts of the union” to negotiate, support and ensure the best outcomes for staff.

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She says the union has repeatedly asked Mr Medd and HR chief Sam Anthony to withdraw a presentation made about the changes so that “reasonable discussion and resolution” can take place.

The union secretary says the dispute has cost implications for the council and has the potential for legal liability.

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She says that UNISON believes FDC is in breach of a signed agreement “and as a result we are now in formal dispute with the council”

But Mr Medd says that at a “time of significant and important change” for the council it is disappointing UNISON has not been prepared to allow all the staff to have their say on the proposals.

“It is important that members are informed as to the basis of UNISON’s dispute. The dispute being pursued by UNISON revolves around a proposal by FDC to ‘consult’ the council’s workforce on how improvements to the current arrangements for staff representation might be achieved,” he says.

“It is worth noting that at present only approximately 29 per cent of the council’s workforce subscribes to UNISON.

“In addition, the council’s current staff side appointees are made up entirely from members of the local Fenland branch of UNISON. As a consequence, this means that approximately 71 per cent of the council’s workforce is not officially represented at either staff side meetings, or on employment matters that may affect them as individuals.”

He said the proposals would change the staff committee to three UNISON members with three elected employee representatives alongside them.

“No decisions have been made or will be made until the workforce has had their chance to comment,” says Mr Medd.

The chief executive says the next step in the dispute resolution process involves a meeting on August 20 between the management of FDC and UNISON, with the Regional Joint Secretaries of the Local Government Association.

He hopes it will “reconcile and acceptable position with UNISON which creates the basis on which the move forward”.

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