STUC and SNP condemn 'Dickensian' East Lothian Council for advising workers save holidays for extreme weather

STUC General Secretary Grahame Smith commented: “Employers should not incentivise workers to travel when it isn’t safe.”

  • A revised staffing policy for East Lothian Council on absences due to extreme weather has warned that workers’ pay will continue to be docked if they do not come in
  • The council has also suggested that those living in rural communities "may wish to consider holding back some of their annual leave for events such as adverse weather"
  • The STUC general secretary has condemned the council’s advice, saying: “Workers should not suffer detriment if unable to travel.”
  • SNP MP Emma Harper also commented: “This is a Dickensian approach from the Labour-run council who are treating their employees with contempt.”

EAST LOTHIAN COUNCIL has been criticised by both the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) and local SNP MSP Emma Harper after encouraging their employees to set aside holidays to cover absences due to extreme weather.

As reported by BBC Scotland, East Lothian Council’s revised staffing policy has warned that the local authority will continue to dock their employees’ pay if they do not come in, and advises that those who live in rural communities "may wish to consider holding back some of their annual leave for events such as adverse weather".

The council also said that it "could not pay" staff who did not fulfil contracts.

Councillor Jeremy Findlay, whose ward covers the North Berwick coastal communities, reportedly told a meeting of the council's cabinet on 22 January that he had a "moral problem" with staff being penalised because they lived in rural areas.

Findlay said: "I have a moral problem with someone who lives in the rural county where roads are under two feet of snow being adversely affected when they are being told by police they should not travel and as a result their wages will be docked."

"I have a moral problem with someone who lives in the rural county where roads are under two feet of snow being adversely affected when they are being told by police they should not travel and as a result their wages will be docked." Cllr Jeremy Findlay

Last year, many council workers were shocked and dismayed at being informed that they would have to take time in lieu or unpaid leave to cover the time they were unable to work during the ‘Beast from the East’, despite police advising people to remain in their homes.

This widespread anger over the manner in which East Lothian Council handled the crisis led local councillors to overturn its previous, long-standing policy on employee absences, resulting in an agreement to pay workers who could not attend work due to the weather. Following a review, wages were reinstated for all those unable to work during red weather warnings.

However, the newly revised policy, approved by the council cabinet this week, did not include any permanent revisions to the previous version, except for adding advice that rural workers set aside holidays.

Council leader Willie Innes stated that, in the event of another prolongued extreme weather event such as the Beast from the East, he expected that councillors would take similar action and ensure wages were not docked, saying: "It is impossible to have a policy that pleases everyone.

"Last year members took the decision to pay staff - I would hope if it happened again we would consider making similar commitments."

However, East Lothian Council’s revised staffing policy has drawn condemnation from the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC).

READ MORE: Beast from the East: Scots warned to stay at home as disruptive snow predicted

Grahame Smith, General Secretary of STUC, said: “East Lothian Council’s policy flies in the face of good practice when dealing with severe weather. The Scottish Government and STUC Severe Weather Charter, developed following the ‘Beast from the East’ last year, makes it clear that the health, safety and wellbeing of workers must be the priority and workers should not be put at risk by attending or attempting to attend their place of work.

“Employers should not incentivise workers to travel when it isn’t safe. Yet East Lothian Council’s policy does exactly that. It is grossly unfair and puts workers health at risk.”  

Smith continued: “The Scottish Government and STUC Severe Weather Charter makes it clear that policy should be negotiated with workers through their trade unions and yet this policy has not been.

“As a basic principle of fairness, workers should not suffer detriment if unable to travel.

“East Lothian Council should reflect on the Severe Weather Charter and change its policy to ensure that workers’ pay is not docked if they are unable to travel.”

“This is a Dickensian approach from the Labour-run council who are treating their employees with contempt.” SNP MSP Emma Harper

SNP MSP Emma Harper has also demanded that the Labour-run East Lothian Council scrap orders that employees should save their annual leave to cover extreme weather.

Harper commented: “This is a Dickensian approach from the Labour-run council who are treating their employees with contempt.

“Asking workers not to take their holiday entitlement is a blatant attack on their terms and conditions. 

“If we’re hit by another Beast from the East, staff shouldn’t be forced to choose between ignoring police warnings and losing wages.

“East Lothian Council must urgently rethink this approach.”

East Lothian’s emergency planning, risk and resilience manager Sandy Baptie warned in October last year that severe weather “is the biggest risk to East Lothian.”

Baptie continued: “Being prepared for it is important and people can do things themselves, such as keeping an old-fashioned phone in their house in case mobile signal is lost, having a torch to hand in case power goes.

“It is also important to stock up on food when warnings that severe weather is on its way are issued.”

Picture courtesy of Bob the Lomond

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