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Posted on 29 February 2012 at 14:13 GMT

Attack on pay defeated at Manchester's NHS Trust

By a Manchester health worker

"The BIPP's been bipped!". Manchester health workers are celebrating a very significant victory after management's policy of withholding some pay on spurious sickness grounds was found unlawful at a tribunal.

Hundreds of staff at Central Manchester Foundation Trust (CMFT) are now owed money by management and the hated BIPP is dead!

The "Behavioural Incremental Pay Progression" (BIPP) policy was introduced in November 2010 in order to "safeguard employment" - if you believe CMFT bosses! In reality this was all about saving money and management admitted as much at the tribunal.

Central cuts to NHS funding led CMFT management to identify a 42 million funding gap. The irony is that bosses at a health care organisation then tried to close this gap by withholding staff wages when they were ill!

The BIPP was applied retrospectively and said that if you had four instances of sickness or 18 days sick in the previous rolling 12 months, then you would lose your increment.

Increments are annual increases in salary within overall pay bands, received provided a worker's performance is "satisfactory" according to the Agenda for Change (AfC) national agreement.

Management originally intended to introduce the BIPP in October 2010, as this is the month when most workers receive their increments, with the aim of immediately denying workers pay increments to which they were entitled.

That was delayed by the unions submitting a collective grievance, a first small victory against the BIPP.

Under Agenda for Change, "satisfactory" performance means you can "demonstrate the agreed knowledge and skills appropriate to that part of the pay band".

CMFT bosses attempted to link performance with sickness and thereby deny incremental pay. Senior managers maintained this argument at the tribunal, arguing that "sickness absence had an inevitable impact upon the individual performance of the person concerned".

Effect on staff

When BIPP was imposed, more staff came into work ill, probably more colds and flu got passed on, and it created a climate of fear.

Staff undergoing surgery or medical treatment faced losing pay and some postponed elective surgery out of fear.

Cases brought to the tribunal included a physiotherapist who was advised by her managers to take time off sick when her mother was dying of terminal cancer; a victim of an unprovoked assault who the Trust's occupational health nurse said was unfit to return to work within 18 days; a nurse who required emergency surgery for appendicitis; and 80 others.

Many of these workers had otherwise good sickness records but were denied incremental pay.

Socialist Party members said from the start that the BIPP probably broke the AfC national agreement and the unions should demand its total withdrawal.

Following the collective grievance, which was heard and duly turned down by the Trust's management, the joint unions ultimately took the BIPP to tribunal. A damning judgement indicts the BIPP as "unfair, inconsistent and arbitrary".

The Tribunal concluded that staff in cases brought to it: "have been subject to a variation of the terms and conditions of their employment, to which they have not consented and through the imposition of which they have been subject to a series of unlawful deductions from their pay." CMFT must repay these deductions in full.

Wider impact

The tribunal's findings are essentially that local NHS employers cannot re-interpret parts of the national agreement covering sickness and pay progression as they see fit.

This will have effects in the NHS far beyond Manchester. Performance cannot be measured by sickness absence.

Pay progression cannot be altered through local agreements or by local employers. Nor can it be deferred "in the case of particular levels of sickness absence as that is inconsistent with the national terms and conditions". "Satisfactory" cannot be made to mean whatever local management want it to mean, but retains the definition clearly intended when AfC was drawn up.

As a result, the BIPP has immediately been withdrawn. At least one other NHS Trust was awaiting the outcome of this tribunal before imposing a similar policy - it won't be now! Similar schemes already imposed by other Trusts should immediately be challenged by the unions.

The judgement having made clear that local agreements cannot contradict AfC in this instance, has implications for other cases beyond sickness absence.

It is a clear warning to NHS employers that breaking the national agreement can and will be ruled unlawful.

Trust bosses want to make huge cuts to wages, get rid of jobs and prepare for full privatisation. This is fuelled by the 20 billion national funding cut which New Labour imposed in 2010 and which the Con-Dems maintained, together with huge PFI debts owed to the private sector.

This is why Trust bosses are using numerous ways of attacking pay. Draconian sickness policies to get rid of people without redundancy pay, "restructures" where whole groups of staff are downgraded to a lower pay band, under the threat of redundancies using so-called "MARS" schemes to engineer resignations and redeployments to drive down pay and increase workload... the list is endless!

This is all linked with the marketisation and privatisation of our NHS, which the Health & Social Care Bill aims to fully achieve.

AfC is an obstacle to this and therefore management is determined to break it as a means to impose a race-to-the-bottom in the NHS.

Beating the BIPP has pushed these plans back. It has strengthened the unions' position and workers' confidence.

Management is bound to return with further attacks, through sickness and disciplinary policies, appraisals, or go directly for job losses.

However, beating the BIPP shows that when the unions act together they can defeat the bosses. When we fight, we can win!

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 29 February 2012 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

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