As decision day rapidly approaches for staff in the six Sodexo-owned CRC's, it's clear that much of the profession has descended into sombre mood. I'm grateful to the reader for sharing the following open letter sent recently to all Napo members in Cumbria and Lancashire. It eloquently outlines the dreadful position many colleagues find themselves in and should be food for thought for all of us.
In case you were wondering, for completeness, the benefit of staff in non Sodexo CRC's, and the historical record, I intend to publish the two remaining parts of the lengthy Q & A document referred to later today or tomorrow.
NAPO Cumbria and Lancashire Branch – open letter to CRC members considering the Voluntary Severance Package and Early Retirement
Members will have seen the Q & A document distributed on Penny Barker’s behalf last week and will have also seen NAPO HQ’s emails regarding a vote for or against accepting the Sodexo Voluntary Severance package and an indicative ballot for industrial action in the event that it is rejected. Despite these attempts to ‘clarify’ some of the issues, our discussions with Cumbria and Lancashire Branch members would suggest that many individuals are still not sure what to do for the best in terms of their own decisions on the issue. Important questions that should inform our decision making remain, in the main, unanswered (Where would I be working? What would I be doing? What would my job look like?).
There is a fundamental principle at play here. CLCRC management are trying to make this process as fair and transparent as possible. Despite their best efforts, however, and the best efforts of NAPO’s officers both locally and nationally, this process remains unfair and opaque. Branch Officers and Members alike are trying to make sense of it in order to provide advice but, given the timescales, the pace and the nature of the ‘modernisation’, many of the decisions relating to roles and locations have not yet been made. Just as was the case with last year’s ‘sifting’, members are consequently being expected to make decisions regarding their futures without all of the necessary information. The simple choice of ‘do I want to stay or go?’ is compromised by the need to establish whether, if an individual chooses not to volunteer for severance, they will be forced out anyway with an even lower severance payment and whether, if they choose to stay, they will be required to undertake a much longer commute and to work in ways and locations unfamiliar to them. The decision to put oneself forward for voluntary severance is being taken, by many, not on the basis of ‘choice, but on the basis that they cannot see themselves in the proposed operating model and need to accrue as large a severance payment as possible in order to meet their needs whilst they seek alternative employment. It is an appallingly unreasonable position to put employees in and, I think it is fair to say, many members are seeking to leave simply because they do not wish to work for a company that treats it’s staff this badly.
Under the above circumstances, NAPO’s vote on the offer and it’s talk of industrial action in the longer term, does not make sense to most members. A vote to reject when you have expressed an interest in the severance offer seems, to many of us, to be a contradictory position. Also, members will be aware that a formal (as opposed to an indicative) ballot would take time to organise and the initial stages of the VS/compulsory redundancy processes are likely to have been completed before the ballot even takes place, never mind before an actual strike can be arranged. Whatever the consequences of the union’s strategy, many of those at risk will not be around to see them.
The important thing to note here is that applying for voluntary severance does not put you in conflict with NAPO’s national position. By voting to reject the severance offer nationally, you are making a point that it is all but impossible for you to make locally; that your decision to apply for and accept a considerably lower offer than that negotiated in the National Framework agreements is made under duress, just as your ‘choice’ to be sifted was made under duress, and that your decision to ‘accept’ this offer is made because you have been manipulated into this position by an unscrupulous employer and without reference to the established national negotiation machinery.
So, where does this leave us? There are those who are wondering whether there is any merit in holding out for a ‘better offer’. Sodexo have made it clear that there will be no better offer. There is still a slim chance that the outcome of the indicative ballot by NAPO and UNISON could secure improvements to ‘the offer’ but, equally, it may achieve nothing. In the meantime, the simple fact is that members need to make a decision based on their own circumstances.
Each member will need to gauge their own priorities and their own perceived vulnerability to redundancy based on grade, location, eligibility for early retirement, age and length of service. The lack of clear detail means that this is in no way an exact science and that advice needs to be tailored to individual circumstances. By applying for voluntary severance, each of us will at least be able to establish the figures we will get if we gain voluntary severance or are released compulsorily and, with that information, do the sums. If you wish to remain in the employment of CLCRC and think that the difference between the two figures is small enough to make it worth the gamble, so be it. If not, you may feel it more appropriate to put your name forward for a severance payment and, assuming that is secured, walk away.
NAPO Cumbria and Lancashire Branch would very much prefer to give each of you clear guidance on the ramifications of each potential outcome of this process but this is all but impossible in advance of the decisions taken post 10th August. All we can suggest is that you talk to your colleagues. Talk to your managers, Talk to your union reps. Gather as much information as you can. Most of all, talk to your families. No-one has the answers but many of us have our own thoughts on the issue and will willingly share them. It is important to remember that the position you are all in is unreasonable and unfair but knowing that does not offer you any answers.
If anyone wants to run things past me or any other Branch officials, please feel free to do so. We will do anything we can to help you make the choice that is right for you and will support you in whatever decision you make but, ultimately, the choice over whether or not to apply for voluntary severance or early retirement will be yours.
NAPO Vice Chair and LJNCC Convenor