EXCLUSIVE: Union makes legal bid to force charity to cooperate

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A union is taking legal advice in an unprecedented bid to force a major care charity to cooperate in the latest twist in a bitter industrial dispute

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4th December 2018 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

A union is taking legal advice in an unprecedented bid to force a charity to work with it in the latest twist in a bitter industrial dispute.

Unison is trying to force social care provider Cornerstone to back down after it sensationally de-recognised the union last week, as was exclusively reported in TFN.

Now the union is turning to lawyers in a bid to force the charity's hand. It is pursuing what is known as statutory recognition – where a state body called the Central Arbitration Committee can force an employer to recognise and work with a union where more than 50% of the workforce are members.

If successful this will be the first time in the Scottish history of third sector industrial relations that an employer has been forced to recognise a union. Unison said it is confident it will succeed. 

Cornerstone – which provides care and support services for adults, young people and children who live with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, autism, dementia and other support needs – took the drastic step of derecognising Unison after 24 years following a series of disputes over the implementation of its 2017 to 2020 strategic plan.

This is a move to a radical new model involving changes to management structure, a move to working in what it calls “self-organised teams” and the introduction of new technology.

It says this is necessary in order to meet the fast-changing needs of the Scottish care sector. It is also a better model for staff and those they care for, says the charity.

However, Cornerstone says it has been blocked and challenged at every turn by Unison.

This has been denied by the union, which says it has been alarmed by Cornerstone management’s approach to, for example, drawing up policies which protect staff, the charity and those they look after.

Both sides have told TFN that they have faced intransigence and often outright hostility.

Running parallel to this is a pay claim – Unison has asked for a 3% rise for staff not benefiting from the Scottish Living Wage (SLW), which currently stands at £9 an hour, pay for sleepovers at the old SLW rate of £8.75, backdated to 1 April 2018, and £12 per hour for all carers undertaking management responsibilities.

Cornerstone has offered 1%, sleepover pay backdated to October and £10.10 for team members.

The employer’s offer was rejected in a consultative ballot of union members – and talks over the pay dispute were due to be heard by conciliation service Acas.

However, the Cornerstone board announced derecognition the day before the Acas talks.

Unison says it has recruited members since the recognition deal was scrapped and is confident of winning statutory recognition.

It is also challenging Cornerstone over a six-month notice period it says the employer must abide by in terms of the voluntary recognition agreement.

Unison Scotland’s head of community Deborah Clarke said “Cornerstone’s attempts to breach our members’ human rights by ripping up our collective bargaining agreement is disgusting and makes a mockery of the chief executive’s status as a Scottish Government Fair Work Ambassador. 

“In an effort to lay bare Cornerstone’s actions by ignoring their staff we will be applying for statutory recognition, an unprecedented move and one that members across Cornerstone are confident we can achieve "

A spokesperson for Cornerstone said: “It will be for Unison to decide if they wish to pursue statutory recognition and, if the majority of our workforce vote in favour of recognition, we will of course accept that decision.”

Unison has also claimed that staff have been spoken to about their union activities and social media posts made during the dispute.

Cornerstone, however, has categorically denied it is anti-union.

The charity spokesperson said: “It was with a heavy heart that the Cornerstone board took the decision to end our voluntary agreement with Unison after 24 years. Since taking the decision we have had many messages of support from our colleagues, other charities and from some of our local authority partners.

“Local Cornerstone has the ultimate aim of, among other things, genuinely valuing social care as a profession and it remains a mystery to us why a union wouldn’t be supportive of something that is of benefit to their members.

“We will continue to engage proactively with our engagement forum, which provides a voice for all of our people, union and non-union members alike.

She added: “We fully respect the right and personal choice of colleagues who wish to remain members of Unison or any other union.”

Unison is Scotland's biggest third sector union. It has agreements with some of Scotland's biggest social care charities including Capability Scotland, Enable Scotland, Quarriers and the Mungo Foundation. It has been campaigning in recent years for the living wage for care staff as well as training and time to properly care for clients.