Thursday 19 November 2009

Council helps itself to employees' pay

Now, tempting as I am sure it will be to some to write this post off as the special pleadings of a featherbedded public sector worker, do please stick with it. Any worker could potentially find themselves in a similar position.

At the end of last month, we finally got the pay award that was due from April, the delay being due to some very protracted negotiations (well actually some protracted stalling from the national employers).

Only several hundred employees didn't - the reason supposedly being that they had previously been overpaid a year previously when last year's pay award was applied. The Council took it upon itself to simply withhold people's pay on the basis of a "maybe" People weren't told this until they enquired - no explanation, no justification.

Now people are starting to have deductions made from their pay for these supposed overpayments, but still no explanation of these overpayments has been forthcoming. People have been given no opportunity to challenge the decision that an overpayment has occurred, nor to challenge the decision that there is a legal right to recover.

Needless to say, the union is on the case. We are disputing the Council's right to act in this arrogant and high-handed manner, and we are demanding that employees are given the right to challenge these decisions before money which they have earned and are relying on is snatched away from them. Now that they are being challenged they are starting to back down.

John Barradell, the new Council CEO, places a high premium on good customer service. But of course, if any user of council services were to be treated like this, there would be hell to pay.

Expecting council workers to show respect for service users starts with some respect being shown to them. Over this issue, Brighton and Hove City Council has shown its employees no respect whatsoever.

PS - if you find your pay packet suddenly "light" because of an alleged overpayment, challenge it quickly. Demand an explanation, and demand the right to negotiate around whether and how it should be recovered. Use your employer's grievance procedure and get the union involved if you've got one. What the employer won't tell you is that they may not have the legal right to recover the money at all, if you received it in good faith and had no reason to believe it was wrong.

Make sure you get advice quickly!

UPDATE - the council has now backed down in the face of pressure from Unison and the GMB. Everyone is getting the money they are owed and anyone the council thinks it has overpaid will get a letter of explanation and a chance to discuss and dispute the issue. The council looks like it will still seek to recover the money but we will be arguing strongly for it to be written off.

Yes..I know...lots of "righteous indignation" from the usual suspects on the Argus Comments about this great "windfall" council staff are supposedly enjoying - but if you have ever been overpaid benefits, tax credits or wages you'll know what a nightmare it is. You have got used to living on a sum which you had every reason to suppose was correct, then it's taken away from you when someone discovers the mistake. That in itself is bad enough, but then they want back all the money you've had been overpaid in the past as well.

Don't forget - if you didn't know it was wrong and had no reason to suppose it was, and you have acted on the basis that it was right, it is highly likely that the employer has no legal right to demand the money back. In Keenan vs Barclays Bank, an employment tribunal ruled that the employee had so built her life around the salary which later turned out to be incorrect that it was not only unfair to ask her to repay the sum hitherto overpaid - but that it was also unfair to expect her to take any reduction in the salary she had been wrongly paid for the future. Now there's an interesting precedent to quote at your friendly local HR department!

No comments: