Fighting cuts to local services and protecting disabled workers’ jobs

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2023 National Local Government Service Group Conference
17 February 2023

Conference notes that local government services have been cut to the bone by a decade of austerity and this has had an adverse impact on our members’ jobs, pay, terms and conditions. This is particularly the case for our disabled members who have often been first in line when job cuts are on the agenda. Disabled workers are also more likely to rely on local government services for support, including in the workplace. However, we now face a new threat of austerity and a real terms cut in pay due to the cost of living crisis inflicted on us by the reckless decisions of this Conservative government. And disabled workers are once again first in the firing line.

Conference notes that there is no “waste” remaining in local government. A real terms cut in central government funding and the impact of rising inflation on council budgets inevitably means more job losses and an end to vital local services. We must resist any job cuts in local government, but conference is deeply concerned that decisions on which jobs to cut disproportionately impact on our disabled members.

In recent years local government employers have increasingly focused on reducing sickness absence, with most employers now using “triggers” to instigate formal sickness proceedings. Unless this is coupled with a robust disability leave policy and an agreement that disability related sickness is recorded separately and treated differently to non-disability related sickness absence, disabled workers are likely to find themselves unfairly facing sickness absence proceedings. In many cases this can lead to the member losing their job through capability or enforced medical retirement.

Where the employer is looking for cuts, disabled workers who are being hauled up on sickness absence can find that it is their post which is identified to go.

Conference reiterates that disability leave can be an example of a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act 2010 and has been confirmed by case law. Local government employers need to accept this and to agree disability leave policies so that our disabled members in local government are not being unfairly penalised when it comes to restructures and job cuts.

Labour’s Equality Act 2010 originally included stronger protections where the employer was restructuring as there was a greater focus on equality impact assessments. The Conservative government weakened the Equality Act, removing its teeth. However, equality assessments are still an important tool in fighting discrimination when it comes to reorganisations. Local government employers have a duty to have due regard to equality impacts but this is impossible if they aren’t carrying out equality assessments.

Conference further notes that in many cases restructures in local government leave the remaining staff with more work, less pay or both. This can lead to burn out and an exacerbation of existing impairments. Some changes to job descriptions and the working environment can also disadvantage disabled workers, for example compulsory home working to save money can have a detrimental effect on some of our disabled members’ mental health.

Conference believes that it is vital to protect local government workers and services from any return to Conservative austerity in a cost of living crisis. We must do all we can to protect jobs, pay, terms and conditions and make sure that our disabled members are not discriminated against by cuts and restructures.

Conference therefore calls on the Local Government Service Group Executive to work with the National Disabled Members’ Committee, to:

1)Promote UNISON’s guide to negotiating on sickness absence policies;

2)Develop and circulate a guide to using equality assessments to fighting unfair and discriminatory job cuts in local government workplaces;

3)Seek to raise the need for an agreed employer policy on disability leave through national negotiating structures;

4)Work through Labour Link to lobby for the return of statutory equality impact assessments in local government.