DISCUSSIONs are ongoing between Scottish Borders Housing Association and union officials after tradesmen threatened to walk out following the suspension of an electrician who is just weeks from retirement, writes Kenny Paterson.
The talks will include issues believed to involve safety, raised by staff in the aftermath of the suspension.
The man, aged 65 and from Galashiels, was suspended last Thursday after an incident – believed to have involved a carbon monoxide detector – at an SBHA property in Denholm the previous day.
He was back at work on Thursday afternoon after talks between Unite and management at the Selkirk-based social housing landlord.
However, about 30 workmen went ahead with an unofficial meeting on Friday morning with Unite regional organiser Tony Trench, when it is believed the majority sought to take industrial action on the same day but were told they were unable to.
Mr Trench told TheSouthern: “There was an incident at a property on Wednesday night and as a result the electrician was suspended on Thursday morning.
“We did not see this as a disciplinary measure and after discussions with the company, the employee was reinstated on Thursday afternoon and immediately sent on paid leave.
“It was a traumatic experience for a 65-year-old with a clean record to be suspended.”
Friday’s meeting also heard a number of concerns from tradesmen which have since been put to SBHA management. Mr Trench refused to elaborate, but they are believed to centre on a lack of specifications when employees attend jobs, which they fear could lead to problems with safety and quality of works.
Mr Trench said: “We had several meetings where a list of issues were brought up by employees and had a full day of discussions with senior management over these issues.
“We are now working with the company, who are addressing these issues. Hopefully that will be in the next two weeks.
“There was anger in the meetings with members and a number wanted to walk out, but we advised them that legally they could not do that. The talks will be ongoing while we look to set up a working group.”
An SBHA employee, who did not wish to be named, said: “The electrician, who is a couple of weeks away from retirement, was falsely accused and we were up in arms about it.
“He was reinstated six hours after being suspended, but the meeting on Friday morning went ahead anyway, and the majority wanted something done about it.”
Julia Mulloy, chief executive of SBHA, said the suspension followed the identification of a risk, and was in the “interest of both parties”.
She said: “It is stressed that suspension was to allow an investigation and not formal disciplinary action. The investigation was concluded on Thu rsday afternoon and the employee was reinstated, with no further action being taken.
“Following constructive meetings on Friday between SBHA senior managers and Unite representatives, a number of issues have been raised with the chief executive and are being addressed jointly.”
The suspension of two staff in August 2010 over a complaint over repair work ordered at a Selkirk house also caused anger among SBHA’s staff, and about 50 workmen passed a vote of no confidence in the management.