Defrosting the Pay Ice Age

In previous Napo News articles, Assistant General Secretary Dean Rogers has explained how the prolonged pay freeze had become an Ice Age meaning the pay landscape will change dramatically when any thaw comes. Here he argues that a managed thaw can seriously mitigate the risks which could otherwise be catastrophic for service delivery and future funding, setting out some of the obstacles and possible solutions. These form the basis of the Napo Pay Strategy agreed at the recent NEC.

In Osborne’s post-election emergency budget, a few months after his last one, buried amongst the targeted tax increases for low paid families; higher National Insurance burdens for small business; and inheritance tax cuts for the super-rich, was his usual assault on public sector workers. Whilst Osborne is Finance Director of UKPLC it seems we’ll not be able to afford a decent pay rise for teachers, nurses, police, or probation and family court staff. Never mind that rents and interest rates are expected to carry-on rising alongside energy bills, transport and carer costs or that new entrants into professions are burdened by student debt – in George’s eyes if you’re mug enough to dedicate your career to public service 1% a year’s your lot.

Except, in probation at least, everyone is beginning to recognise that 1% simply isn’t enough. The Pay Ice Age has already broken the pay and grading system and without recognising this, and putting aside significant additional resources to support a carefully planned thaw, the positon is unsustainable – a more dramatic, catastrophic, unplanned and uncontrolled reshaping of the landscape is inevitable. The economic and professional costs of continuing to ignore these risk are now too great to ignore.

Napo has therefore decided to force the issue from the start of the 2015-16 pay round. We will seek to seize the initiative and shape the conversation around significant long-term reform of probation pay across the NPS and CRCs.

The timing is critical. New CRC’s have inherited the same broken pay system with its ludicrously long and now discriminatory pay ranges. Originally designed to provide stability and local flexibility the Pay Ice Age means grade boundaries are rigid and the potential legal risks of legacy equal-pay claims enormous. CRC’s would be hugely unwise to take these risks on alone when they could still expect support with legacy costs inherited from NOMS, but they’ll be unable to deliver services adequately and safely if the reward structure isn’t loosened sooner or later. Now is the time for us and them to force the issue on NOMS.

Likewise, within the NPS, change in how and what staff do is inevitable. This change cannot be delivered without conflict unless long-standing grading, training and pay issues are addressed strategically. It makes sense to tackle these issues in a join-up way.

Likewise for Napo, we can’t wait any longer. Whilst the current model wasn’t originally discriminatory, limiting progression to the contractual minimum every year has made it unfair and illegal. During the same period the profession has changed – the latest PQF cadre is 90% female and a disproportionate number at their band max are older men, meaning both gender and age discrimination claims are inevitable unless the problem is addressed. Because they’re complicated and time consuming to execute (collective equal pay claims typically take years to get through the Courts with appeals to Europe a regular government tactic) equal-pay awards come with significant back pay and the cost of moving everyone onto the top of their pay grade is astronomical. NOMS should know – they lost the last big equal-pay challenge in Government when originally setting up their Shared Service Centre!

Napo will begin to prepare and start taking equal pay cases if necessary over the coming months. However, we also hope we can engage with the employers around quicker, cheaper negotiated outcomes that will provide all members with a new genuinely and measurably fair, transparent and sustainable pay system.

We know it’s possible. In Cafcass, although members are still effected by pay constraint and the Pay freeze, Napo has helped shape and maintain transition to a pay system that now sees staff having 2 pay points – reaching a pay maximum competitive with other social work based jobs in only 18 months. With Cafcass now part of the MoJ, we can point out that a better model exists close to home even within austere times.

Safe change starts with recognising the current grading system’s inflexible and discussing what a more mixed structure could and should look like; exploring how we can safely and fairly transition without undermining professional standards and protections for individuals. This inevitably overlaps into training requirements and standards – urgently agreeing across CRCs and the NPS about how and what service delivery looks like and requires.

With so little trust left in the NPS, and CRCs still new, Napo and the unions have a central role, not only in pushing for positive change but in facilitating and leading the conversation around all of these issues and how they relate back to reward. The employers’ can’t safely do this without us but we can’t do this in a centrally led, dogmatic way either – there are no easy or magic ways to get around these challenges and they’re so intrinsically linked to professional delivery at all levels that Napo will have to carefully and honestly engage with members at all levels throughout the difficult negotiations.

This means the process can’t be quick. It therefore follows that Osborne and HM Treasury’s dogma and dictates can’t hold. Napo will be demanding that MoJ immediately set-out the business case for significant additional funding not just this year but throughout the period of this parliament to support and facilitate safe and sustainable pay reform across probation. This must be invested in starting to relieve the pressure built up in the system with above inflation pay rises in the short term, and adequate monies set aside to buy-out contractual progression up front and before new systems can be implemented.

It also means addressing the difficult question of how you avoid a probation free-for-all now that TR has introduced new labour markets competition for staff when there are staff shortages, whilst making probation work more secure and appealing. This problem was at the heart of why NOMS agreed to retaining a single NNC for pay and terms and conditions as part of the TR process – but making that work in relation to pay when there are 22 competing employers on one side of the national bargaining table is challenging. One solution could be taking pay out of the political arena but all sides would only buy into that if they were sure they’d still have input into discussions and access to fair, sustainable and adequate funding – that would genuinely require Osborne letting go of the controls.

There are interesting times ahead. Look out for ways you can participate and have your say in your union’s discussions.

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