Unison is the largest and, arguably, most powerful trade union operating in the NHS - well resourced, well informed and politically connected, especially to Scotland's Labour establishment of senior councillors, Holyrood MSPs and Westminster MPs.
Yet Unison, along with the other NHS trade unions, is managing to dig a very deep hole for itself over Agenda for Change (see earlier posts of 10 February and 26 April).
Why? Because the principles of Agenda for Change are sound - they are intended to reward people for the day-to-day the skills they use in carrying out their jobs. But the implementation of this new grading structure is being badly mishandled at local level - largely due to a lack of professional advice and support to nurses and other NHS employees.
The fact is that Unison and their union colleagues are jointly responsible for implementing Agenda for Change in local hospital and community settings - decisions are being made jointly with NHS managers about job profiles, new bandings and appeals and so on.
But the unions are failing to advise their members about the widespread pay anomalies and inequalities that continue to exist under Agenda for Change - which means the unions' are really turning a blind eye to ongoing pay discrimination on a grand scale.
So, Action 4 Equality and Stefan Cross have called the unions to account by joining Unison as Respondents (i.e. co-defendants) - along with the NHS employers - in Employment Tribunal proceedings that are currently underway in Newcastle.
The reason for this action is that Unison is allowing pay inequalities and discrimination to continue - not just the NHS management - because the unions and the employer are effectively handcuffed to each other on the subject of equal pay.
So, in the eyes of the law, if the unions are jointly responsible, then they will have to revisit and renegotiate the discriminatory implementation of Agenda for Change at local level.
In other words, the unions can't have their cake and eat it. Unison can't be on the same side of the fence as the employer - taking vital decisions on a joint basis - but then wash their hands of that responsibility, if bad decisions are challenged and overturned.
Unison is in the frame along with the NHS employers - to explain why Agenda for Change continues to treat many male dominated jobs more favourably than jobs done mainly by women. The Chair of the Employment Tribunal in Newcastle has put Unison on the spot by asking the union to clarify its position.
On the one hand, Unison's lawyers complain about ongoing discrimination, but as the tribunal chair points out - quite rightly - Agenda for Change grading panels are made up of equal numbers of management and trade union representatives.
Which begs the question: Are the unions defending the joint decisions of local grading panels, or supporting the appeals of individual members - because they can't be doing both at the same time?
Unison and the other NHS unions will face some searching questions - inside and outside the Employment Tribunals - as the issues being raised in Newcastle begin to bite in Scotland and in other parts of the country. Here are a few well aimed queries that will help kick start the debate.
1 How do members know if their own job has been banded fairly, if they don't know the grading outcomes for other (male dominated) jobs?
2 What information does the unions publish about the implementation of Agenda for Change - across each of the Scottish health boards and NHS employers?
3 How can members access this information - and where do they go if they need further detailed advice?
4 What steps are the unions taking to ensure that local representatives are fully trained and competent in the job evaluation techniques that underpin Agenda for Change?
5 How are local representatives appointed - and how are they accountable to the local membership, for the important decisions being taken jointly with local NHS managers?
6 What advice are union lawyers providing - as professional back up to members affected by Agenda for Change?
7 Are the unions and their lawyers accepting the decisions of local grading panels? If not, why not?
8 Are the unions making representations to the health boards and other NHS employers? If so, what are they saying?
9 What is the union position on pre-October 2004 claims? After all claims can be backdated for up to 5 years (to 2000 and 2001 in many cases), but Agenda for Change is backdated only to 2004. So, are the unions arguing for the whole period, or only part of the period, and what advice is being given to members?
If you need further advice on this issue, ring Action 4 Equality on 0131 667 7956 or drop Mark Irvine and e-mail: email@example.com