City council chiefs have apologised to care staff and pledged to launch a review into their “appalling” treatment following the controversial decision to shut South Bristol Rehab Centre.
The 40 workers were originally set to be transferred to similar jobs with Sirona at South Bristol Community Hospital after Bristol City Council’s cabinet approved the rehabilitation unit’s closure in January to save more than £500,000.
But the move via TUPE regulations fell through and they spent months in limbo before being given the choice either to apply to join the community healthcare provider in a “preferential recruitment process” or be redeployed within the local authority, but no option of redundancy, to the anger of the GMB union.
Now, GMB senior organiser Rowena Hayward is demanding – and appears to have won – an investigation by council bosses to learn lessons from the debacle.
She told a recent council meeting: “The way this workforce has been treated by senior management has been absolutely appalling.”
Rowena said staff were offered a few other roles but none were acceptable, including jobs at the city council’s East Bristol Intermediate Care Centre - despite concerns that this could also face the axe because the authority had made clear it could no longer afford to provide rehab services.
She told the human resources committee on September 22: “Any transfer to East Bristol centre would be putting these employees through this same process that they have been subjected to in South Bristol.
“We have had to challenge every step of the way to demonstrate that these posts were not reasonable, and yet management have opposed this and caused these staff high levels of stress, anxiety and depression,” Rowena said.
“The majority of people have been off sick.
“We had managers telling us they wouldn’t shoe-horn these staff into jobs they didn’t want or wouldn’t be able to do and yet that is what we ended up with.
“Had management got their way and had this work group not stuck together and stayed strong and resilient, they could have walked away with nothing after 30-plus years, which is how long many of them have worked for this authority.”
She said some of the staff from South Bristol Rehab Centre, which cared for older people leaving hospital prior to going home, before its closure in July, had now been belatedly offered voluntary redundancy but this would prevent them taking another city council job for 12 months under employment rules.
Rowena said: “In some ways that is a success but I would like the committee to look into why they are being offered voluntary severance when it means they will not be able to get another job with this authority for at least a year, whereas if they are made redundant, they can get alternative employment within one month, less a day.
“Why is it that some of their colleagues have been made redundant while this group is now being offered voluntary severance? That really is not on.
“What we would like from this committee is for you to work with the trade union side and have an investigation as to why this group of workers was treated this way and why it was allowed to continue right up until today because that is not acceptable or the measure of a good employer.
“Somewhere in this process, senior management decided they were going to be difficult because this group of workers stood up for their rights.
“That should never happen in this day and age.
“If management got it wrong, they should be big enough to admit that and then rectify it and not try to browbeat these workers into submission, which is what it has felt like.
“So we are asking for a fresh look at the way these policies are being implemented.”
One former rehab centre employee told the meeting: “Our lives have been nothing for months.
“We have been in turmoil. Some of us have been off sick for a while with no support or communication from the council.
“We have never had answers and we want answers.
“There has been no justification for why they are putting us through this.”
Bristol City Council HR business partner James Brereton told the meeting: “A number of things Rowena and her colleagues have said are concerning.
“I hear that your experience of working for the council, particularly towards the end of your time with the council, has not been a good one and I wish to apologise for that because that should not be anyone’s experience of working for this council.”
He said he would aim to bring a report, with input from unions, senior managers and HR, outlining lessons learned to the next HR committee in December.
James said he would also clarify whether the voluntary severance offer should really be compulsory redundancy because of the service’s closure.
The GMB’s calls for a review were backed by Tory Cllr Richard Eddy who said he hoped the authority’s employment policies on fairness and equality had been followed both to the letter and in the spirit that they had been endorsed when established by the committee.
Labour Cllr Kerry Bailes told the staff at the meeting: “I just want to apologise that you’ve been put through this.
“It is really awful and unnecessary and I really feel for you.”