Agenda for Change is a good example - the trade unions have a very real conflict of interest - because they're busily agreeing to new bandings and new grades with local NHS managers - but of course the ordinary union member hasn't got the foggiest clue about what's going on - everything is happening over their heads.
Agenda for Change is implemented locally against a nationally agreed framework - but the local unions reps and managers making these decisions are also required to:
- record all their decisions clearly
- ensure that that their decisions are fair, objective and consistently applied
- be properly trained and competent in the Job Evaluation techniques that underpin Agenda for Change
- provide the information that their members need to understand and make sense of Agenda for Change, both in terms of their own jobs and - just as important - other NHS jobs
But this is not what's happening - new bandings are being agreed locally for female dominated jobs - yet higher bandings are being introduced for many male dominated jobs such as technicians and tradesmen.
Agenda for Change is not about challenging the widespread pay discrimination that still exists in the NHS - in reality, it is propping up and defending the status quo (see earlier post dated 10 February 2007).
Needless to say, these pay differences and discrepancies (between female and male jobs) are not being reported to union members - instead of operating in an open and transparent way, as intended, Agenda for Change has become a closed and secretive process.
The real problem is that ordinary union members are as much in the dark as ever.
To make matters worse - having cobbled together Agenda for Change as a means of denying legitimate equal pay claims - the unions and NHS managers have set themselves up as both judge and jury when it comes to local appeals.
Union reps and NHS managers agree the new banding system on a joint basis - then the self-same group intend to sit in judgment of their own decisions when it comes to hearing appeals.
Now that's a real conflict of interest!
So, Action 4 Equality's advice is to appeal your Agenda for Change banding, but don't expect many victories locally because you are effectively asking the unions and NHS managers to overturn their own decisions. What's happened is that the new system has become the exact opposite of independent, honest and transparent.
And that's why it's vital that NHS staff challenge the unfair and selective application of Agenda for Change - by submitting an equal pay claim as well as an internal appeal.
An equal pay claim takes your case outside of the NHS to an Employment Tribunal - which is a completely independent body - and one that appoints an external independent expert as part of the review process.
An Employment Tribunal will look objectively at the fairness of the process - and isn't compromised by being part of existing management/union structures. Tribunal members are properly trained and will consider any pay discrepancies between male and female jobs - without fear or favour - and whether the rules have been consistently applied.
Now that's how things should be done.