SBHA bosses bemused by union’s ballot

Scottish Borders Housing Association in Selkirk.
Scottish Borders Housing Association in Selkirk.

A housing association director has said he ‘can’t understand’ the decision of union members to vote for a ballot on industrial action.

Alan Vass, SBHA’s director of technical services, told The Southern the move came out of the blue as an agreement is in place for SBHA to put proposals to the Unite union at a meeting on July 21.

The issue centres on SBHA wanting maintenance staff to start work ‘on site’ at 8am, instead of the current arrangement whereby they leave home at that time.

Unite’s regional organiser, Tony Trench, said around 90 SBHA employees will receive ballot papers on industrial action next week, following what he sees as failed talks with SBHA over the change, which he says would result in several hours of unpaid work each week for staff.

Around 40 Unite members voted in favour of a ballot after two meetings held last month.

However, Mr Vass said the association was prepared to make concessions to staff.

“We have always been open and transparent with the staff and union, and our main goal, as a large employer in the construction industry in the Borders, is to expand and grow the maintenance division.

“We realise terms and conditions are important to staff, hence the reason for negotiating with the union for over two years on a range of different topics, and the majority of these negotiations have been very successful,” Mr Vass said.

SBHA and Unite have been in discussions via arbitration service ACAS, but Mr Trench said SBHA was “adamant that they were not going to budge”.

Mr Vass responded: “Unite say we are asking staff to work more hours, but that is not the case, we just want them to be on site at 8am to provide a service to tenants and are willing to sit down and negotiate.”

He added: “If we can become more efficient in relation to growth we would be looking to increase employment in the maintenance division which would attract additional apprenticeships, support the existing workforce and bring in more money to the local economy and SBHA, which we could reinvest in our housing stock, and that benefits our tenants.”

Mr Trench said Unite members in Edinburgh and Glasgow housing associations have given their ‘full support’ to the local members.