Unions have won an early victory in the fight to stop Bristol City Council from closing a rehabilitation center for the elderly.
Civic leaders came under fire for the proposed closure of Bristol South Rehabilitation Center at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
The proposals are part of the council’s £19.5million budget cuts and would save the authority £500,000.
Employees are ‘angry and upset’ and talks between workers, the Council and the NHS community provider have been ‘Shambolic’ and meaningless, say the union of trade unions and the GMB.
A prominent backbench councilor has taken the rare step of publicly criticizing local authority officials for handling the issue “wrongly”.
Even Labor councilor Helen Holland, a cabinet member overseeing the move, admitted that the gratitude shown to carers during Covid-19 now rings hollow.
Unions claim quick win but threat of shutdown still looms
Councilor Holland changed her recommendation at Tuesday’s meeting to ensure that a final decision would have to come back for final cabinet approval, which it would not have.
Union representatives, joined in the public gallery by some of the 40 employees, and Labor Party whip Councilor Chris Jackson urged members to postpone the proposal.
But a decision ‘in principle’ has been passed, triggering formal consultation and the plan remains to close the centre, in Knowle West hostel court and transfer employees to Sirona under TUPE regulations.
Sirona provides a service to older people between their discharge from hospital and their return home to South Bristol Community Hospital.
The GMB hailed Tuesday’s recommendation as a victory.
Senior organizer Rowena Hayward said afterwards: ‘This is great news for our members and all Center staff, who have been transferred to a different employer or forced to move their jobs.
“They have worked hard and shown incredible strength and commitment throughout the pandemic, and their reward has been the threat of closure.
“There are still serious questions to be faced about the viability of moving the service to an external provider and the impact that will not just have on staff, but on the people of Bristol who rely on the centre.
“We are pleased that the board saw the sense and delayed this decision to allow the details to be considered.”
Addressing the meeting, she said “so many critical questions” remained unanswered and there had been no meaningful consultation with staff.
‘The GMB is appalled at the way staff have been treated by management,’ she said.
Bristol Unison representative Steve Mills said staff only met Sirona for the first time last week and the healthcare organization could not be clear about future services or terms and conditions.
“The consultation process can only be described as chaotic. Members are angry and upset,” he said.
Councilor Jackson told the firm: “The negotiations between staff and our adult social care and HR management team have been appalling.
“This decision was mishandled by council officers.
“I have a lot of questions and they can’t give me the answers. But the sad thing is that they were better than Sirona.
“I ask that the decision be deferred until meaningful negotiations between council officers, Sirona and staff have taken place.”
Councilor Holland said: ‘It’s not an easy decision to make. Some of the staff feel that the thanks may have rung a little hollow if they feel they have been treated badly by these proposals and I regret that.
“This proposal initially came from Sirona. We have no legal obligation to provide rehabilitation services – there are very few local authorities that are still in this area.
“The proposal is to start consulting for TUPE our staff at Sirona to continue the services they provide.
“This report triggers this policy decision to work with staff and union representatives to transfer staff to South Bristol Community Hospital and increase the capacity of rehabilitation services in Bristol.
“Staff have real concerns and we intend to monitor the progress of these negotiations very closely.”
Holland said the talks so far had been “very disappointing”.
“I expect Sirona to be much more engaged in discussions about how this is going to work,” she said.
Hollande said she would ask for weekly updates on how the negotiations were going and that a report should then come back to Cabinet of the decision to sign her, which would only happen if we are satisfied that the responses have been given to staff. “.