Council bosses deny union claims about staff morale

Sonia Halliwell
Sonia Halliwell

Wigan Council has hit out at a trade union over its claims scores of jobs are at risk and town hall staff feel depressed and worn down by their work.

Unison claimed the local authority’s current round of restructuring could see more than 100 posts shed.

Wigan Council is proud to be a supportive, caring and listening organisation which places the wellbeing and development of its workforce as one of its highest priorities

Sonia Halliwell

The union also claimed its survey showed deep unhappiness at the town hall, with 66 per cent of employees replying feeling depressed, 81 per cent complaining of sleeplessness and close to 86 per cent feeling continually tired.

In addition one in five respondents said they had been off sick in the last 12 months due to the stress and pressure of work.

However, Wigan Council has hit back strongly, completely rejecting the figure of 100 job losses and expressing bafflement how Unison had arrived at it.

The local authority also criticised Unison over a lack of dialogue with the town hall, negatively comparing it to the way representatives from other trade unions are working with the council.

Despite Unison saying its survey was filled out by “hundreds” of employees, the council also questioned how representative of the entire 4,000-strong workforce the picture emerging actually is.

Unison regional organiser Sean Gibson said: “This will be the fourth year where staff and their families have the threat of redundancy over them. The cuts cannot go on.

“Wigan Council has already delivered £100m in savings since 2010. There is nothing left to cut.

“The cuts which have been imposed on Wigan by this Tory national Government are in danger of destroying our public services as well as pulling apart thousands of families in Wigan, many of whom are already having to resort to using food banks and taking on pay day loans.

“We are taking the survey findings to the council and will be pressing for them to provide better support for staff through these difficult times. We will be representing our members through the redundancy process and working to minimise job losses and service cuts.”

Council employees told the surveys the local authority needs to avoid excessive monitoring, avoid requiring staff to reapply for their jobs and deal with complaints swiftly and consistently.

One Unison member told the union they were treated “like robots” and another said they were being “piled on with more and more work” due to colleagues leaving.

However, Wigan Council has completely denied the survey is an accurate picture of morale in its workforce, saying its own surveys produced very different results, and issued a long, detailed reply to the claims.

Sonia Halliwell, assistant director for human resources, said: “Wigan Council is proud to be a supportive, caring and listening organisation which places the wellbeing and development of its workforce as one of its highest priorities.

“The council is regularly recognised by independent outside bodies for the high standards it achieves through investing in its staff and for involving staff in how the organisation is run and how it can continually improve.

“We hold a regular staff survey which is completed anonymously. On the last occasion 3,124 (72 per cent) of staff took part and it highlighted increases in staff engagement in important area such as wellbeing, management and leadership.

“In contrast to this Unison members only represent a much smaller proportion of our staff. We believe the results of their survey don’t reflect the feelings of the whole of the workforce and are in complete contrast with what our staff tell us through our employee voice channels.

“We are very disappointed that Unison has not given us the chance to discuss the survey findings as this does not reflect the positive relationship we have with other trade unions.

“In contrast other trade unions, such as the GMB, actively work with us to make the council a great place to work. It would seem that Unison has another agenda.

“The survey was conducted nearly six months ago but it was only yesterday that we were given the findings despite repeated requests for the information. This unnecessary delay has prevented us from responding to the concerns raised.

“They also declined to provide us with confirmation of the number of surveys that were sent out or completed. It’s therefore difficult for us to fully understand the scale of the problem and where within the council individuals don’t feel they are being sufficiently supported.

“In 2010 the council received the biggest budget cut in its history.

“The cut was the third worst for any local authority in the country. By 2020, our budget will have reduced by £160m.

“With over £115m savings made to date and a further £45m to save by 2020, we have to make difficult decisions to save this money. Making the further savings is especially hard because now there are fewer simpler ways the council can reduce costs. We are always committed to reducing the number of compulsory redundancies.

“The council has in place a range of support that staff can access which goes above and beyond what other organisations provide.

“We take any concerns raised by staff seriously, especially those relating to abuse, violence and aggression, and have clear procedures in place that ensure all incidents are investigated and that an employee’s health and wellbeing is protected.

“We are absolutely committed to working with all of our recognised trade unions and staff and to ensuring that all employees feel able and equipped to do their very best and continue to deliver excellent services for residents and the

borough.”

The council said it has also recently signed the Time to Change pledge, a public commitment to improving wellbeing and reducing discrimination.

The GMB trade union applauded the local authority’s move and said the town hall was willing to tackle issues raised.

David Hope, the union’s Wigan representative and branch secretary, said: “We have a very good working relationship with Wigan Council and they take all concerns raised by our members seriously.

“We have recently worked closely with the council on raising the issue of mental health in the work place.

“Mental health is an issue which affects many people including our members and the GMB has created a guide to coping with mental health issues in work.

“It is to the council’s credit that they have signed the Time to Change employer pledge, showing their commitment to change how it approaches mental health within the workplace.”