Union attacks Norwood over pay cuts

By Jessica Elgot, February 24, 2011
Norwood’s Norma Brier

Norwood’s Norma Brier

Children and families charity Norwood is fighting a war of words with the Unite union after talks over staff pay cuts broke down after just three minutes.

Unite official Jamie Major attacked proposed contracts as "Dickensian", describing Norwood as one of the voluntary sector's "renegade employers".

Norwood chief executive Norma Brier countered: "I don't think what the union have said is representative of how our staff feel."

The charity has been severely affected by local authority budget cuts, losing £4 million in funding. In November it announced plans to cut the wages of front-line care staff and make 20 per cent of head office staff redundant, as well as reducing supplier costs.

Mr Major claimed some Norwood staff were facing in excess of a 40 per cent salary reduction because of restructuring. "Staff feel humiliated, upset and angry by the way Norwood is treating them.

Members will take industrial action if necessary

"We were told that staff must sign new contracts by April 1 or they would be sacked," he alleged. "We had nothing further to say to Norwood after that. It is not negotiation. Now staff are being asked to sign letters by February 28 saying they will accept the new contracts. That is bully boy tactics."

The union intends to demonstrate at major Norwood fundraising events, "especially the high profile ones. Our members have al-ready said they will take industrial action if necessary and we will formalise that soon."

Norwood blamed Unite for the premature end to talks. Director of corporate services Philip Bunt said: "I had booked two hours off for the meeting and believed we would reach an agreement by the end.

"This came as a bolt from the blue. We are very happy to talk and we have done very detailed presentations and listened carefully to people's concerns."

He said pay cuts would affect employees differently. Some staff members would be moved to other roles in the organisation.

"We have a number of cushions in place to try and help people. Now the cuts will be spread over three or four years for some people and pay will be protected for a period for those worst hit. It's painful, it's horrible, and we don't want to do this, but we have no choice."

Mr Bunt was unaware of any staff members leaving over the salary reductions. He added that their pay would remain above the national average for front-line care staff.

For Mrs Brier, the "main aim now is to get on, reach a settlement and continue to do our best for service users". She hoped talks with the union would resume early in March.

Last updated: 3:09pm, February 24 2011