Strong message bridges powers divide
Between the 21st November and the 5th December 2022 many of you took part in the NCOA consultative ballot in direct response to the current pay award inertia. The ballot served to provide us with a temperature check on the strength of feeling at this time and to help understand the reality of potentially moving to a legally compliant industrial action ballot.
Trade Union laws are not there to make industrial action an easy option and the added powers/non powers element affecting our own membership adds a layer of complexity which I do not believe exists elsewhere. It is also worth highlighting that despite the original intentions of 2013, a little over a third of the current workforce actually have operational powers and are prohibited from taking strike action.
Any formal ballot outcomes (as opposed to our ‘indicative’ ballot) which might be relied upon to trigger lawful industrial action, must have secured the votes of at least 50% of those members who are entitled to vote - in the first instance.
When assessing the responses, almost 50% of our members took part in the consultative ballot, with 62.7% supporting strike action and 84.3% supporting action which falls short of striking. Given the considerable number of officers with operational powers who took part in our consultative ballot, although many of you indicated you would be willing to take strike action (or action short of a strike) if you were lawfully able to - the fact remains that this is not currently an option for you. We are therefore unable to conclude that we would be able to clear the relevant turnout numbers or response numbers as a precursor to any industrial action.
The cost associated with running a formal ballot is considerable but more importantly, we are currently unwilling to divide our membership by expecting those who are lawfully able to undertake industrial action (and all that entails), whilst those with operational powers are forced to work on - irrespective of their own strength of feeling on an absent pay award.
However, what is clear from this ballot is that 88% of those who took part in the ballot indicated unambiguously that they would be willing to withdraw goodwill until the pay issue is resolved. Significantly, there is no legislation in existence which restricts any Agency employee from withdrawing goodwill. This can be sensibly and legitimately delivered by members across the ‘powers divide’ - without damaging our own ‘One NCOA’ culture.
Later this week, many of you will be taking time off to enjoy a hard-earned break with your families, sadly this time of year will also see parliament shut down for business until the 9th Jan. As you can see, there is now an increasing risk that your 2022 pay award will not appear in your January pay slip and may not see the light of day until February 2023 - 6 months late.
Like last year, we have recently been made aware of a significant projected underspend in the Agency’s budget and would encourage each of you to only work additional hours for payment (if that is what you want). If you do not want to work for TOIL or flexi-time, please stand firm and ensure that when money is available for working additional hours - that you are allowed to access it just like everybody else.
No Department or Directorate is exempt from the working hours operating procedures relating to overtime - or more importantly, your own contracts of employment.
I would encourage you to speak to your local NCOA rep if you are experiencing any difficulty in this regard (check the intranet for details). Be in no doubt though that the Agency has been very clear with us about what it expects from managers when dealing with staff working additional hours beyond any contractual requirement. Following challenges by the NCOA, I am pleased to report that some departments have recently been ‘allocated’ overtime budgets for the first time and non-operational roles are being advertised explicitly as being eligible for overtime where necessary.
In the new year it is my intention to contact you all again to help co-ordinate activity which will ensure that you are paid appropriately for the work that you do but also that you are able to draw a distinction between what you are required to do as an employee - and your private time beyond that 37/40hr week.
I sincerely hope that 2023 turns out to be a better year for us than 2022. Cheers to you all - see you on the other side.
Simon Boon - NCOA General Secretary