This is the text of the speech I made yesterday to SNP Conference about the way in which Glasgow City Council employees are being treated over the cancellation of the UKBA contract to house asylum seekers.
Last October more than 600 asylum seeking families were sent letters out of the blue from the UK Border Agency telling them the contract with Glasgow City Council (GCC) to house and support them had ended and they would be moved “elsewhere in the Scotland region” with 3 to 5 days notice.
There was much more about that letter and the way in which those asylum seekers were treated that was shameful and the SNP has utterly condemned it. But today conference I want to look not at the effect on asylum seekers but the effect on the 34 members of the Glasgow Asylum Support Services project team. Because right now these men and women are struggling and they need and deserve our support.
These workers aleady work in highly pressurised jobs as it is. They are the main point of contact for some very vulnerable and frightened people. Conference so many people ask me what I’ll do after parliament and they assume I’ll work with asylum seekers but I’m as certain as I can be that I won’t. It is heartbreaking enough representing them as an MSP. I honestly do not think I could do the job that these men and women do day in day out.
So after 5 November not only did they have to deal with panic amongst asylum seekers, they knew that they faced an uncertain future themselves.
However, despite the uncertainty, the one thing they did know was that Glasgow City Council had a no compulsory redundancy policy and that wherever they ended up working, they would, as employees of GCC, at least still have jobs.
But they were wrong. Traditionally in Glasgow housing of asylum seekers has been provided by 3 main providers – GCC which held the bulk of the contract, Y People formerly the YMCA and the most inappropriately named company I’ve ever come across in my life, The Angel Group.
The contract ended up being awarded to Y People and the remaining 34 GCC staff were to be transferred over under TUPE.
TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings and Protection of Employment) I had always thought was about protecting the terms and conditions of the workers being transferred. And it is. But I have now been told 3 different stories about what TUPE actually means and some say it only has to protect their terms and conditions on the DAY of transfer. If the company they transfer to subsequently restructures, they can be issued with new terms and conditions and they can wave goodbye to the old ones.
And that is precisely what is happening. Y People have said they will not need all 34 project workers. So as soon as they all transfer, a restructuring will take place and Y People staff will compete with GCC staff for the new jobs. There are many other issues about pensions and hours of work, but this is the most crucial point. These 34 workers are expected to accept the transfer – remember their current employer has a no compulsory redundancy policy - accept the transfer and immediately enter a situation where some of them will definitely be made redundant and the remainder will face redundancy next year if Y People do not get the next 5 year contract.
Conference, how many lambs do you know who, given the choice, would willingly amble to the slaughter house?
Well I think these workers SHOULD be given the choice. GCC may not have a legal obligation to redeploy them but they certainly have a moral obligation. You heard me talk about the strain they work under but I haven’t told you how this team has been praised throughout the UK for the high standard of the work they do, the best in the UK I have been told. And I haven’t told you that for many years this team was the only team in social work to be producing a financial surplus. So they’ve gained an enviable reputation for GCC and they’ve brought in money. Some of them have been with the council for more than 25 years? Wouldn’t you say that GCC now owes them?
Yesterday I met with the council, they said it was not possible to redeploy 34 members of staff. And yet when I met with the 34 project workers yesterday they told me of the many jobs they are qualified to do that are currently being carried out by expensive agency staff. They told me about GCC staff who took voluntary severance packages, LEFT but are now BACK performing the SAME role but as agency staff! They told me (and Y People backed them up) that some of the roles they perform are not transferring over to Y People and will still have to be carried out by GCC staff. So why can’t they get some of those jobs?
Another interesting point. The UKBA contract was going to be up for renegotiation this October and there was no guarantee they would get it. So what was Glasgow City council proposing to do with the project staff then given their no compulsory redundancy policy?
And how can the UK’s third largest local authority seriously argue that they can’t redeploy a mere 34 workers?
They may be a mere 34 workers right now but what’s to stop this happening with other teams if work is outsourced or contracts are lost?
Yesterday they told me it made such a difference to them that I met with them and that the SNP council group are supporting them. Let’s give them the backing of the whole of the Scottish National Party and let’s show them one of the reasons we fight for Independence is so that we can create a more just society where workers’ rights truly are protected and people are not discarded in the way that they have been.