Thursday, 7 July 2016

Spotlight on - the States Employment Board

BBC News reported on this story:

“The withdrawal of a doctor's contract was "contrary to law, unjust, oppressive", a government complaints panel has found. Eye consultant Amar Alwitry was due to start at Jersey's General Hospital in December 2012 but was told a week before by the States Employment Board (SEB) his contract had been terminated. Mr Alwitry said he had queried the safety of certain practices. SEB said it was considering future legal action over the findings. The board said it had noted the report's observations and expressed "significant disappointment" regarding a number of conclusions which it said it would not comment on.”

As my friend Adam Gardiner commented:

“SEB are contemplating making legal appeal against the findings of an independent enquiry. Another wrangle likely to waste yet more public money while lining the pockets of lawyers.

“What is the point of an enquiry if a States body cannot and will not accept its findings? As it is, the taxpayer is now liable to ‘settle’ with the doctor concerned and again we pay for the shortcomings of civil servants and poor management processes. I am sure that if such a termination of contract was made in the private sector, the various boards, commissions and statutory bodies would come down on them like a ton of bricks - and even face prosecution.”

So I thought it would be useful to look in more detail at the States Employment Board, and see who its members are, and some of the decisions made in the past. Is it fit for purpose or should these kinds of decisions be taken by an independent body?

The States Employment Board is the employer of all public employees in Jersey and is responsible for fixing the terms of conditions of these employees. It is chaired by the Chief Minister and brings together 2 members who are Ministers or Assistant Ministers and 2 members who are not.

Chairman: Senator Ian Joseph Gorst
Vice Chairman: Senator Andrew Kenneth Francis Green M.B.E.
Members: Senator Alan John Henry Maclean, Connétable Juliette Gallichan, Connétable Michel Philip Sydney Le Troquer,

Unlike PPC which always has a "balance" of left, right and centre members of the States, this is heavily weighted to the establishment.

So it is perhaps hardly surprising that they are contemplating action!

Especially as these are the terms of its existence:

The States Employment Board
(1) The States Employment Board shall be established.
(2) The States Employment Board shall be a body corporate with perpetual succession and may –
(a) sue and be sued in its corporate name; and
(b) so far is as possible for a body corporate, exercise the rights, powers and privileges and incur the liabilities and obligations of a natural person of full age and capacity.

Notice especially 2 (a)! The word "sue" has got them worried, and reaching for their lawyers. And the taxpayer will pay. As Adam Gardiner notes:

“Whether it can sue, or be sued, may be source of some worry, but then again SEB seem to be holding a superior hand in having the bottomless resource of public money to pursue litigation. In contrast, Dr Alwitry should he wish to sue, will have to dig very deep into his personal pocket.”

If we look back to 2009, we can see lessons for today in the poor decision making process by SEB.

Members in 2009 were: Senator T.A. Le Sueur, Chairman, Senator P.F.C. Ozouf, Senator T.J. Le Main, and Connétable M.K. Jackson of St. Brelade.

In that year there was a pay freeze, prompting Geoff Southern to bring a vote of no confidence, which not surprisingly failed. But he did note in his proposition:

"There is no doubt that the States Employment Board has seriously mishandled negotiations with the representatives of the public sector workforce over the 2009 pay award. I use the word “negotiations” extremely loosely because there were none. Instead we have witnessed the arbitrary and unilateral declaration of a pay freeze. "

"Having declared a pay freeze, the Chief Minister then managed to convince representatives of States employees that they were free to re-open negotiations over 2009 pay and public sector cuts, when nothing was further from the truth. In the words of the report (Jersey Evening Post of 12th August) “they won’t budge over £4m cuts and the pay freeze”. Any negotiation was to be “within policy”. That policy, decided not by the States, but imposed by the SEB and sanctioned by the Council of Ministers, was simple: there will be a pay freeze and service cuts. These were not negotiable; the Chief Minister was just playing with words and playing for time."

Playing for time was of course very much Terry Le Sueur's modus operandi as Chief Minister, so there is perhaps nothing new there. But it shows how the SEB is hardly an independent body, and very much under the control of the Council of Ministers.

This is all the more remarkable, as great store is set by the fact that States Members remuneration has to be set by an "independent" body and not by politicians.

While there is independent arbitration available for negotiations between the SEB and Unions, it is notable that the SEB avoided that in 2009, and does not like the findings of an independent body commenting on their decisions either in the case of Mr Alwitry.

Another notable issue in 2009 was the pay differential between UK and Jersey. Again as Geoff Southern pointed out, it was Apples and Pears:

"The Chief Minister failed to compare the cost of living in Jersey and the U.K. before comparing wages. The best data can be obtained from the Jersey Household Expenditure Survey (HES) 2004 – 5. This reveals that the cost of living in Jersey is a massive 46% higher than the U.K. This is the benchmark for any real comparison of wages, and yet it was not mentioned in the report to the States."

"Figures presented by the Chief Minister suggested that public sector workers were far better off than their colleagues in the U.K. On average, Jersey States workers were 39% better paid. This does not make them 39% better off. To be better off, Jersey workers would have to be paid at least the benchmark figure of 46% more to match the cost of living here. They are in fact 7% worse off. "

The reason for this is almost certainly in part because of the high cost of rental / housing in Jersey compared to the UK, with the exception of London. And in addition, since GST, with freight costs as well, food costs are often much higher locally.

This is something which has been overlooked, perhaps by accident, or perhaps deliberately with regard to teachers. As the BBC reported:

“Newly-qualified teachers in Jersey will have their annual salaries slashed by £8,000, the government has announced. The reduction, from £33,000 to £25,000, is one of several spending cuts announced by the education department, including a £150 cut per child in subsidies to fee-paying schools.”

“The revised pay packet is more than the £22,000 minimum starting salary for newly-qualified teachers in England, but less than the salaries of those in central London who start on nearly £28,000.”

But of course that fails to consider the higher cost of living, just as that consideration was overlooked back in 2009. These are not comparable figures, and it is deceitful to pretend that they are. It seems that we have come full circle.

Basically the stance in 2009 was not to consult or listen but to dictate, and not to accept justifiable criticism of its decisions. It seems that the basic stance of the SEB has not changed much in the intervening 7 years.

1 comment:

James said...

Given that every member of the SEB is a politician, I think your friend Mr Gardiner owes the Civil Service an apology for his comments on this occasion.