Foreword

These are unprecedented times as we continue along the path to recovery in the midst of the Pandemic.

Liam O’Hanlon Chair of the NIHE Central Panel comments;

“NIPSA would wish to not only acknowledge the commitment and role of all members during this dangerous and stressful time and feels it is important that members are fully informed of the ongoing work and commitment of NIPSA representatives in the NIHE”.

NIPSA continues to campaign and negotiate on your behalf on a number of issues and crucial to this is communicating and listening to member’s experiences on the ground.

Whilst this has not been an easy task during the Pandemic much good work has been overseen by the NIPSA NIHE Central Panel and a number of crucial negotiations and consultations are taking place which will shape your future in the NIHE.

Details of these issues are outlined below and will be posted on the NIPSA Gateway site and I would urge you all to contact your NIPSA Representative should you wish to become more active in your union NIPSA.

Social Housing Reform/Revitalisation of the NIHE

Following on from meetings with Deirdre Hargey DFC Minister, NIPSA has recently met with the NIHE and the Department for Communities.
The Chief Executive for NIHE provided Trade Union Side with an overview of the current Workstreams arising from the Revitalisation Proposals which included:

Workstream Overview
Stock Investment projections  
  • To provide a fact based estimate on the investment needed.
  • Will include backlog, make various assumptions and take account of major projects planned.
Landlord Business Plan  
  • To provide a detailed cash flow projection including income, expenditure and assumptions around significant areas (e.g. transition to net zero /building safety etc). 
  • Will incorporate the work of the stock investment worksteam to provide clarity around the investment needed.
  • Will include scenarios on rent flows and borrowing requirement.
Rent
  • HE providing information to the department to enable Minister to make a decision on future rent levels.
  • Links to the stock investment worksteam and clarity around the investment needed.
  • Key principles around affordability (for tenants) and sustainability (for HE as a landlord)..
Legal Structures
  • To provide legal advice on future structures to inform Minister’s decision.
  • Noted the key principle as per Minister is to have as little change as possible.
Communications
  • To ensure engagement and communication throughout with key stakeholders e.g. unions, partners, tenants, industry.

 NIPSA raised ongoing concerns around the implications for NIPSA members employed in the NIHE and raised the need to discuss with the employer specifically any implications which could arise from a Co-operative/Mutual Model or social enterprise in regards to members Terms and Conditions.

The Department Official confirmed that it is too early to share provisional options, however he clarified the following 7 parameters for options development as set out by the Minister:

  1. Maintain independent strategic housing authority
  2. Regional scale of current functions
  3. Not to transfer stock to another pre-existing organisation
  4. Protect capital priorities of the NI Executive
  5. Maximise potential support from UK government
  6. Based on a fundamental rent review
  7. Prioritise continuity and limit change to what is necessary to address the investment challenge

NIPSA extended a cautious welcome to the reassuring correspondence from the DFC Minister within which she addressed NIPSA questions posed some time ago in relation to concerns around Privatisation implications for NIHE members and their employment.

However, upon further consideration and in the context of comments by the Departmental Official at the recent meeting where he advised “we will look at what the figures tell us and what can be afforded, no guarantee NIHE will stay in public sector, it’s only a preference”, NIPSA found it necessary to respond to this seeking further clarity particular in regards to the DFC Minister’s definition of Privatisation given her stated preference for a co-operative/mutual model or a social enterprise model, all of which give rise to privatisation of an essential public service as per the ONS classification.

NIPSA has asked the Minister to state categorically whether she would accept reclassification as defined by the ONS classification at present as Privatisation and therefore not an option for the NIHE going forward.

We also expressed concerns that any changes to the NIHE which place it outside the public sector would leave Northern Ireland as the only nation in the UK and Ireland with no public sector housing or council housing as it is referred to in other areas.

Covid-19 Update on Return to Work Plans

Following the recent NI Executive announcement on the 6th September 2021 which stated in regards to working from home that:

“While the message to work from home where possible and appropriate remains, the Executive would encourage employers to plan for a return to the workplace with consideration of mitigations to control the spread of the virus and engagement with employees and their representatives on the beneficial use of flexible working where appropriate.”

NIPSA has been advised that the NIHE have been continually reviewing their position in regards to the ongoing advices from the NI Executive Guidance and their stated road map out of Coronavirus restrictions which includes returning to workplaces.

NIPSA continues to represent members’ interests at the fortnightly Covid group and has expressed concern that in the current environment which includes high numbers of
Coronavirus deaths and positive cases to consider returning employees for the sake of putting “bums on seats” is a dangerous and unnecessary risk.

The opening up of workplaces and returning staff to workplaces indeed requires planning and ongoing Risk Assessments both collectively and individually to ensure all facilities are fit for purpose and mitigate the risks of Coronavirus infection and spread.

Ensuring that not only buildings can accommodate the necessary Social Distancing requirements but that the technology and infrastructure is also in place along with vital access to canteen, toilet and bathroom facilities for the required numbers of staff.

The recent experiences around working during the pandemic have identified many key employment issues and experiences including homeworking and the reduction of travel etc benefitting the environment and work life balances.

NIPSA has consistently expressed to the Management Side of the NIHE the need to ensure that the new ways of working which have been forced upon us all are appropriately identified and adopted in relevant Policies to ensure a proactive way forward in this new world and not a rush for the previous controls of a regimented workplace.

NIPSA has heard the fears of members around a possible rush to return all staff on a 50% basis to the workplace on the 1st of November 2021 and has put the Chief Executive and Senior Management of the NIHE on notice that such plans would be unacceptable to NIPSA without including an appropriate Working from Home/Hybrid Working Policy such as the one recently agreed in the Northern Ireland Civil Service and other Public employers in a balanced approach.

NIPSA believes there is no “one size fits all” approach that can be applied in light of the current risks and that the required collective and individual risk assessments may indeed identify that such an approach would be restricted depending on mitigations required.

NIPSA remains committed to working with NIHE Management and building on the success and commitment of all members during this pandemic to ensure an appropriate phased return of staff in line with the relevant NI Executive Guidance and Public Health Advice.

NIHE Pay and Grading Review

Management have advised Trade Unions that the Report of the Pay and Grading Review undertaken by STAHRS has been completed and presented to the NIHE Board and upon approval a Business Case is now being developed for Departmental approval which will then be presented to Trade Unions for Negotiation.
NIPSA has advised Management from the outset that the Trade Union Position with regards to the NJC 2018/19 Pay agreement included dealing with Equality concerns around elongated pay scales.

Management proposed a Pay and Grading review to look at the existing structures within NIHE which would identify a number issues arising in respect of “fit for purpose” considerations going forward.

NIPSA reiterated a number of concerns including any outcomes re 6 point scales etc should be backdated to the 2018/19 NJC pay deal and that nothing would be agreed until everything is agreed.

NIPSA has received feedback in respect of the Review which includes:

  1. Addressing the Equality issue of elongated scales by adopting a 6-point scale as stated in the NJC 2018/19 Pay agreement, no overlap in scale points, incremental progression in every grade and removing SCP’s at the bottom of current scales. However, a number of issues remain unresolved for TL2 and DLO grades which will require further consideration post review.
  2. Acknowledgement of a single pay & grading structure for all posts and the NJC GLPC Job Evaluation Scheme as the appropriate way forward in Pay and Grading.
  3. Concerns arising following Benchmarking of Senior Management Pay with a proposal to adopt a new NJC Job Chief Officer Evaluation Scheme.

NIPSA continues to raise concerns at Management’s failure to be open and transparent and to date has not received a copy of the Review Report as shared with Management nor have we received details of the Business Case being developed.

NIPSA recognises the frustrations of those members whose equality concerns would remain unresolved and continues to request that all grades including those at TL2 require resolution to a 6-point pay scale along with the other grades identified in the Review and subject of the business case going forward.

NIPSA has advised management of the disagreement around implementing a process for some grades and excluding others as only exacerbating their equality concerns and increasing their frustrations leaving them with the one option to express their concern through the Grievance process supported by their union.

NIPSA members wishing to take this approach should consult with their local Representatives accordingly.

NJC Pay 2021/22

Trade Unions Side submitted a substantial pay claim of 10% to address the year on year undermining of pay arising from Government Austerity and below cost of living settlements.

Management have offered 1.75% above the bottom point which would receive 2.75% and this falls far short of the increasing cost of living at nearly 4 percent and with additional tax, fuel and energy increases due this is indeed a Pay cut.

The main NJC Unions are urging their members to reject the offer and this has been supported by the NIPSA NIHE Central Panel.
NIPSA members will be kept fully informed of further development arising from the National negotiations.

Terry Thomas
Assistant Secretary (Acting)