Bucks County Council pay ‘bribe’ ruled unlawful by employment tribunal

County Hall and, below, Martin Tett
County Hall and, below, Martin Tett

Bucks County Council was forced to pay out £3,500 to a union member for ‘unlawfully’ trying to change the terms of their employment, it has emerged.

Last year staff were offered £750 each, described as a ‘bribe’ by Unison, to switch to a performance-based pay system.

BCC Cllr Martin Tett

BCC Cllr Martin Tett

However, educational psychologist Dr P Whitaker claimed the offer breached the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1992 and successfully challenged the council at an employment tribunal.

Council leader Martin Tett said the authority was ‘disappointed’ with the ruling.

Documents seen by the Bucks Herald at the time of the offer showed that 84% of staff who responded to a survey about the new system voiced concerns about it, and although 93% of council employees are now signed up, unions say many are still worried.

Dr Whitaker, the local representative for the Association of Educational Psychologists, challenged the council because he believed the £750 offer breached section 145B of the 1992 Act.

It states: “A worker who is a member of an independent trade union which is recognised or seeking to be recognised by his employer has the right not to have an offer made to him by his employer if acceptance of the offer, together with other workers’ acceptance of offers which the employer also made to them, would have the prohibited result...The prohibited result is that the workers’ terms of employment, or any of those terms, will not (or will not longer) be determined by collective agreement negotiated by or on behalf of the union.”

The tribunal ruled unanimously that the council ‘did make an offer to the claimant which, contrary to 
section 145B, was unlawful’ and ordered a payment of £3,500.

Mr Tett said: “It was never our intention to induce staff to vary terms of their contracts so as to move away from collective bargaining.

“The sole purpose of the lump sum payment was to recognise the risk staff were taking in moving from fixed pay progression to a system of variable pay progression, and as compensation for a move of pay review date.

“We will, of course, take the tribunal’s finding into account in future collective bargaining situations.

“We feel that this performance related system will deliver better outcomes for the residents of Buckinghamshire.”

Penny Gray, secretary of the Bucks branch of Unison, said: “A lot of staff are still concerned about how it’s going to impact on their pay. We were not happy about it at the time and did not think it was right.”