In the third of his articles on Agenda for Change Amicus Research and Policy Officer Colin Adkins looks at the Terms and Conditions Working Party.
Terms and conditions are likely to be a contentious issue for some Amicus MSF groups particularly in the area of unsocial hours premiums.
Harmonisation on hours is a key objective in creating single status in the NHS, which we support. Equalisation of the length of the working week is likely to take place around about the length of the nurses (37.5 hours).
Indeed some Amicus MSF groups (Speech and Language Therapy) presently work less than 37.5 hours and this therefore will be a diminution in their terms and conditions of employment. However at the same time we recognise that many professional groups work over and above their contractual hours so in reality they will be no worse off. For example the last CPHVA Omnibus Survey of 500 Health Visitors revealed that they an extra 9.26 hours per month unpaid. Amicus MSF is opposed to unpaid overtime or extra hours without time-off-in-lieu (TOIL).
The length of the standard contractual working week poses problems for us not as a matter of principle but as a matter of balance.
Harmonisation on hours is an expensive cost item as it effectively increases the hourly rates of pay (e.g. a reduction from 40 hours to 37.5 hours increases the hourly rate by just over 6 per cent). Whilst we are committed to harmonisation on hours we are also equally committed to our bargaining items.
All these objectives are subject of separate Amicus MSF or CPHVA campaigns. The lack of family friendly arrangements has been identified by the DoH as one of the key reasons nurses leave the service. Whilst the Pay Review Body (PRB) has picked up the increasing frustration of Community Practitioners regarding access to IT and about the weak policies for those who use a vehicle (98 per cent of Health Visitors use a car to carry out their work) for work purposes.
The present proposals from the DoH on unsocial hours do not form the basis of an agreement.
The long-hours culture is a British disease. We have the longest working hours (particularly male workers) of any country in the European Union. The average length of working time has gone up in the last decade. These hours are worked in order to supplement some of the poorest levels of pay in Northern Europe.
At the same demands for increased service coverage are increasing – "the 24/7 society". This is one of the visions within the NHS Plan.
Overtime is a contradictory phenomenon. It is justified by increased service or output demands. However, all economic evidence points to the fact that reducing levels of overtime increases productivity. It has been shown that sometimes overtime gets systemised and work expands to fill the available time.
On these premises there is a basis for a way forward. However, staff are naturally resistant or fearful of change particularly when the current arrangements delivers for them even if this involves work patterns that Amicus MSF cannot condone. Maintenance of the status quo of long hours also maintains the culture of low wages.
At the same time we will seek to have clearer guidelines on unsocial hours or TOIL arrangements. Very few Community Practitioners work overtime. However, the latest CPHVA Omnibus indicates that many Health Visitors work extra hours over and above their contractual hours. The pressure of work often causes this. Team leaders or managers are in the invidious position because of insufficient resources of urging extra work when they realise that for practical reasons TOIL cannot be taken.
Many of our colleagues in the Community Psychiatric Nurses Association work On-Call. The rate for this has to be attractive. This year the PRB increased On-Call allowances for nurses by 50 per cent. Therefore it does not seem realistic to reduce these again. Indeed there is a strong case for an opposite approach.
Flexibility and bridging clinically unnecessary demarcations through passing work back down the ‘skills escalator’ under supervision would increase the optimisation of more skilled staff leading to ‘productivity’ improvements. In his speech to the Royal College of Nursing conference, the Secretary of State indicated that productivity improvements would result in salary gains. Amicus MSF will ensure that this comes about through genuine skills mix (e.g. the use of Community Nursery Nurses) rather than exploitative grade mix (e.g. as has partly happened in District Nursing).
Leads and Allowances
Many Leads and Allowances for working in particular circumstances (e.g. the psychiatric lead) will disappear because the circumstances that give arise to the payment of these allowances will be taken into account as part of Job Evaluation (see article April 2002). This will result in the pay system becoming more transparent.
There is a potential problem in this area. However, with sufficient investment in pay this may be kept to a minimum.
The present proposal is protection for salaries, terms and conditions for a period of eighteen months. Whether this is eighteen months from completion of AfC or when AfC is introduced has not been determined.
Some groups have better arrangements mainly negotiated when Section 48 of the General Whitley Council agreement was terminated. In one case it is asserted that this is lifetime protection.
There are two issues, firstly an interpretation of whether such agreements apply in the context of the implementation of AfC. Secondly, the effect of such agreements, if they apply, on fair or equal pay.
Most of the local agreements refer to organisational change e.g. trust or departmental merger or re-organisation. It is unlikely therefore that such agreements do apply under the AfC. The DoH will reasonably argue that AfC is an all of nothing agreement and salary protection is part of this. Staff cannot agree to accept any salary gains but seek to protect salaries for the losers under localised agreements.
If staff did seek to apply local agreements it may be shown that male dominated professions have greater protection than female dominated professions or visa versa and therefore it is indirectly sex discriminatory (in Northern Ireland this case can be made on religious or political orientation grounds). The same arguments may be made on national grounds where devolved government in the Scottish Parliament or Welsh or Northern Ireland Assemblies has reached more beneficial agreements.
Separate discussions on Pensions Modernisation are looking at the possibility of protecting people who take on less onerous work in the run up to their retirement. At present staff who make such a move may suffer a detriment to their pension. For example this could apply if a Practice Educator decides to return to full time Health Visiting, District Nursing or School Nursing. However, these talks have not been finalised.