Workforce Reprofiling: Downbanding by another name

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2012 Health Care Service Group Conference
1 January 2012

Conference is concerned at reports that some NHS Trusts are undertaking mass downbanding of staff to save costs, often under the pretext of skill mix reviews or other service redesign. While it is understandable that from time to time service redesign will be appropriate, this should only be driven by quality improvement and not solely a means to reduce pay costs.

Conference notes the composited motion agreed at Health Conference 2010 which asked for a survey of branches to see how widespread the practise of down-banding was and to feed this information back to conference in 2011. The Health Service Group annual report stated that based on the evidence provided by the NHS Information Centre down-banding was not a widespread problem across the NHS in England and that the data would need to be considered over a period to view trends. It was then agreed with the Service Group Executive that half yearly reports should be provided to view trends. UNISON has made reference to down-banding within the evidence to the NHS Pay Review Body, September 2011.

Conference now believes the process of down-banding is even more widespread than these figures would suggest and that Trusts are trying to disguise it under the term of ‘Workforce Re-profiling’ and that a definition of what constitutes down-banding is needed to ensure we have robust methods of dealing with it. We have seen leaked press releases regarding the threat to nurses being down-banded and the Health Secretary vehemently denying any knowledge of down-banding within the NHS.

The Agenda for Change (AfC) Job Evaluation scheme was introduced to tackle unequal pay in the NHS and enable staff to have better career progression prospects. In relation to jobs being re-evaluated, the Agenda for Change Job Evaluation Handbook Feb 2010 states the following:

“1.3 The AfC agreement required fairness and equality in line with equal pay legislation. This will be a continuing requirement as organisations develop new services and posts and incorporate the job evaluation process into procedures.

1.4 There is a need for the NHS JE Scheme to continue to be used for determining the banding of posts and consequently staff pay rates. This will apply to all new posts and posts which have significantly changed since they were last evaluated.”

Conference believes the following:

a) Where job descriptions are reengineered in order to downband a role and there is not a significant change in that job role, it is a clear breach of the AfC agreement and must be challenged as such.

b) NHS pay protection policies are very limited, so members being downbanded have to suffer a devastating and often immediate pay cut.

c) Service redesign driven solely by cost savings can result in a poorer quality service and therefore worse outcomes for patients and service users.

d) Cost driven service redesign can result job roles being removed from structures

resulting in blockages to staff career progression.

Conference further notes the implementation of Agenda for Change, a nationally negotiated agreement delivering equality in terms and conditions, was no easy task and the protection and enhancing of it has certainly been just has hard fought.

It is clear to this conference that Trusts are using the process of Workforce Re-profiling to undermine the foundation of Agenda for Change and the Job Evaluation scheme which was done in partnership through staff engagement. Conference is also concerned that down-banding may be restricted to certain staff groups. Staff who are down-banded onto lower job specifications and descriptions are usually still required to work at their previous level and UNISON must assist members in opposing this.

Conference therefore calls on the Service Group Executive to:

1. provide information, publicity, bargaining advice and if necessary training to branches on dealing with service redesign and skill mix reviews.

2. ensure that branches through regions report any incidents of NHS Trusts using service redesign to downband groups of staff.

3. continue to survey health branches regularly collating information to see how

widespread this practice is and include data on any up-banding of staff for comparison and staff groups affected.

4. produce materials for branches and regions defining what down-banding is and the many guises it could take.

5. assist branches in dealing with organisational changes and workforce re-profiles that will see the emergence of new and amended job specifications and descriptions encouraging use of the General Fighting Fund where appropriate.

6. support and encourage branches in using local procedures such as grievance policies to resist the undermining of Agenda for Change through the job evaluation process.

7. actively collect and share best practise where branches have been successful in resisting down-banding.

8. actively engage the Labour Link and to put pressure on the Government to remain committed to the founding principles of Agenda for Change.

9. ensure this issue is raised as a priority with the employers through its representatives on the NHS Staff Council.