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CM gives unions ‘cold shoulder’ on negotiating agreement

CM gives unions ‘cold shoulder’ on negotiating agreement

Thursday 28 November 2019

CM gives unions ‘cold shoulder’ on negotiating agreement


The Chief Minister has refused to answer written accusations that the government has “unilaterally withdrawn” from an agreement underpinning interactions between public sector staff and their employer.

As the unions head for renewed discussions with the States Employment Board (SEB) over pay for 2021 and beyond, civil servants are demanding a clear answer from Senator John Le Fondré as to whether his Government will honour the Joint Council Framework Agreement (JCFA) signed back in 2014.

This agreement underpins all relations between public sector employees and the SEB including arrangements for negotiation and consultations, collective disputes procedures and provision of facilities, time off and training for union representatives.

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Pictured: The letter accuses the Board of "unilaterally withdrawing" from the agreement made in 2014.

Collectively referred to as ‘Civil Service Staff Side’, unions JCSA Prospect and Unite the Union have been pressing the Board for confirmation that they will honour the agreement as the last meeting of the Joint Council – comprising representatives across unions and the SEB – was in June 2017.

Their original letter to the Chief Minister – sent at the end of September this year – states: “We write seeking confirmation that the States Employment Board is continuing to honour this agreement.

"We were very concerned that, in a meeting on 25 September 2019, a representative of SEB stated that the employer no longer recognises the agreement. The consequences of the employer unilaterally withdrawing from such an agreement would be serious.” 

It continues: “The Joint Council Framework states that the Council should meet at least four times a year. The last Joint Council meeting was in June 2017. We have asked representatives for the SEB to convene a Council meeting on numerous occasions over the last years and have identified a considerable number of items of business.

“These include Collective Disputes that have been raised some time ago and are not being addressed by the employer.”

According to the document itself – released to Express in a Freedom of Information response – its common objectives consist of: 

  • ensuring “that the public service conducts itself in accordance with the principles of good governance, efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability;”
  • treating staff “with fairness and consistency;”
  • encouraging “equality, diversity, health, safety and wellbeing of public sector employees;”
  • welcoming trade unions and staff associations “as key parties in the delivery of public services;”
  • promoting “positive employee relations between the employer and recognised Trade Unions/Staff Associations;”
  • maintaining “cooperation” and adopting “a joint approach to change and improvement of public services in order to achieve fair and sustainable outcomes.” 

However, unions still apparently don’t have an answer from the Chief Minister, who holds the title of Chairman of SEB, about whether this agreement will be honoured – prompting them to send another open letter yesterday (Wednesday 27 November) demanding a response.

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Pictured: The unions are demanding clarification on the status of their agreement with the States.

This letter reads: “…We wrote to you asking that you please confirm that the States Employment Board will honour the Joint Council Framework Agreement, signed by all the Public Sector Unions, and will take urgent action to address the employer shortcomings in adhering to the requirements of this agreement.

“Despite sending a further reminder we have not received a reply. The States Employment Board employs all public sector workers and it is difficult to understand why you will not answer a simple, but important, question related to key employee relations issues.

“Can we expect a reply in the near future?”

The latest letter comes after the Vice-Chair of the SEB, Constable Richard Buchanan, was pressed on the matter in a States Assembly meeting last month by Reform Jersey's Deputy Rob Ward.

He asked: “Is the States Employment Board still honouring the Joint Council Framework Agreement that was signed in December 2014; and if not, when was the decision taken not to do so and what assessment has been made of the consequences?” 

Constable Buchanan responded by saying that “the rejection of the workforce modernisation in March 2018 took away much of [the agreement’s] relevance".

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Pictured: Vice-Chair of the SEB Constable Richard Buchanan.

Initially, he told the Assembly, that that Board would “likely” be asking for a review of the current arrangements.

Elsewhere in his response, the Constable said: “The Joint Council Framework was never signed and as far as we can see was not approved by S.E.B., which is why we have engaged in discussions with the unions to make sure that it is either replaced, or we go back to using it.” 

To this, Deputy Ward retorted: “Sorry, it is not often that I am speechless, but I am at this moment.”

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