Prison privateer’s pay offer ‘a farcical lucky dip’

Striking Mitie workers at St George’s Hospital in Tooting demanding better wages and conditions

TRADE union Unite, the UK and Ireland’s biggest union, has branded a pay ‘offer’  to its 500 members   employed by the company Amey undertaking prison maintenance work – as a farcical ‘lucky dip’.

And as can be seen, the histories recounted below show above all how so-called ‘outsourcing’ in fact works to undermine systematically the kind of pay agreements that union members require and expect their trade unions to secure for them.

In the first of the cases, the supposed ‘pay increase’ is already a year late: that is, it relates to the previous year’s pay increase, i.e., is delivered a year late!

The ‘increase’ relates therefore to the pay increase which was already due in April 2018 – but wasn’t actually paid! ‘Amey proposed  what they called a ‘variable’ pay deal for its prison maintenance staff: Workers would receive between 0-3.5 per cent depending on a huge and variable number of factors.

‘In the event,’ Unite states,  ‘Amey has been unable to provide information on how much each of Unite’s 500 members will receive if they agree to the pay offer: and when individual workers have asked for the same information about their “personal proposed” increase they have also been told that it is not available.’

In fact, says Unite, ‘Amey has told Unite that they will provide the requested information only after the workforce has agreed to the pay offer. And the company has refused to enter into any further negotiations about the pay offer.’

Amey first acquired the prison maintenance contract for all prisons in the North of England and Midlands in 2015. After that, in the nearly four years since prison maintenance work was privatised, Amey has failed to harmonise pay rates and problems are increasing rather than being resolved.

Unite’s officer with responsibility for prisons, Caren Evans, said of it: ‘The pay offer is a complete farce; Amey can’t or won’t tell Unite or the individual workers how much they will receive until after the offer is accepted. This is not a pay offer but a badly executed lucky dip.

‘Workers operating side by side, doing the same work, could see one worker receiving a 3.5 per cent increase while the other received nothing. Amey has had this contract for nearly four years, and rather than resolving pay issues, they are getting worse.

‘This is the latest example of Amey’s total mishandling of the prison maintenance contracts, which have been dogged by large doses of inertia and incompetence.

‘The service is failing and the government must step in and re-nationalise prison maintenance before the problems become so severe that the welfare of staff and inmates is directly put at risk.’

At the same time, continues Unite, ‘Amey has racked up substantial losses due to problems on its other public service contracts, and it is understood that its Spanish parent company Ferrovial is looking to sell it.

‘The prison maintenance work in southern England was transferred to Carillion, and following that company’s demise in January 2018  – i.e., well over a year ago – the workforce was transferred to Facility Management Services Ltd (FMSL) which is effectively a government agency.’

In fact only since the workforce were transferred did the pay and conditions issues even begin to be come clear: and they are still un-resolved. According to Unite the full details of the Amey pay offer were:

‘Eligible employees paid above the average salary for their role to receive a 1.25 per cent increase: eligible employees paid below the average for their role to receive an increase of 2.75 per cent;

‘Employees on Fair & Sustainable terms and conditions who are still not at the top of the former pay scale on which they transferred to Amey would receive a further increase of 0.5 per cent;

‘An additional increase of 0.75 per cent would be paid to any employee still below the average for their role after the application of 2.75 per cent (total increase 3.5 per cent). Those eligible for this award are all employees in the bargaining unit except:

152 new starters since 1st January 2018;  46 employees who have already had a salary increase as part of a change to their terms and conditions.

Those who commenced their employment after 1st January 2018 aren’t contractually entitled to their first annual review until April 201: hence their exclusion.

Employees who had already had a salary increase during the year April 2018 to date were also excluded however, and employees who received an increase effective from 1st April 2018 under National Minimum Wage (4.4 per cent) would receive the basic increase of 1.25 per cent.

• ‘MPs should probe why the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has to pay almost £80,000 in indemnity costs for failing to disclose information over the privatisation of MoD firefighters,  Unite also reports this week.

The bill arises from a High Court case involving outsourcing firm Serco which wanted the contract to manage Defence Fire and Rescue Services (DFRS)  providing cover on MoD sites.

Its rival bidder was Capita. Capita was awarded the 12-year contract, worth £1.1bn, last summer, but Serco lodged a legal challenge claiming that the MoD had failed to disclose the relevant information over the evaluation process.

Mr Justice Fraser awarded Serco £79,274 in indemnity costs, as the MoD had ‘not ‘begun to grapple’ with its obligations until ‘an extraordinarily late stage’. The MoD’s conduct had ‘fallen well outside the norm’.

The legal tussle between Serco and the MoD over the firefighters’ contract will recur and continue at a court hearing currently scheduled for April 2020. The start of the Capita contract has been suspended pending the outcome of this case.

But as Unite regional officer Caren Evans has said: ‘The continued legal wrangling is causing unnecessary uncertainty and stress to the dedicated workforce, and also delaying the procurement of new vehicles and equipment the firefighters so urgently need.

‘The High Court case that saw the MoD having to shell out nearly £80,000 of taxpayers’ cash in indemnity costs is yet another reason why the plug needs to be pulled on this controversial, decade-long saga.

‘Debt-laden Capita is not a fit organisation to manage this contract.

‘Time and time again, the flawed outsourcing model, as highlighted by recent events at Carillion and Interserve, has been shown not to be value for money for the taxpayer, and detrimental to the pay and employment conditions of the respective workforces.

‘We will be asking the Labour defence team to probe the MoD culture that sparked this High Court case and left the taxpayer to pick up the costs that could have been avoided if the MoD had been more open and transparent.’

Unite has also repeatedly pointed out that DFRS privatisation will lead to job losses at the same time as local authority fire services have also experienced cuts to staff and the closure of fire stations, many of them in rural areas where MoD bases are situated.