Frontline looks at further support the CSP can offer members in the workplace, particularly when life and work don’t go to plan
Support, guidance and updates from the CSP’s Employment Relations and Union Services team
In the last issue of Frontline, we explored the roles of CSP stewards and safety reps. They are supported by a network of regional reps and by CSP staff, known as senior negotiating officers (SNOs).
Stewards and safety reps are familiar with your workplace, they know local managers and HR staff and have a firm understanding of local policies and procedures. SNOs, who work within the CSP’s Employment Relations and Union Services (ERUS) directorate, will normally assist when local reps need extra help in resolving a problem, or in progressing a claim to improve working conditions.
Most SNOs live and work in the regions they cover, giving them the advantage of local knowledge, the opportunity to build relationships with local people and organisations, and an insight into location-specific issues and concerns.
There are other head office-based ERUS officers who undertake research, policy and advice work in a range of specialist areas, including pay, grading, health and safety, employment law, equality and diversity, pensions, workforce development and other issues. They can also respond to government proposals on employment and health policy and routinely take part in employment negotiations.
The CSP can support you as an individual in a variety of different ways, ranging from help with problems at work, working with you to respond to potential cuts to services and jobs and offering support during reorganisations and restructuring, to representing you at internal meetings and hearings, and providing information, advice and guidance on a whole range of employment and health and safety issues.
Making a difference
We can also support you in unexpected or extraordinary scenarios that you may not anticipate. We can use the learning and experiences from this to help shape future policy and the support we offer members.
SNO Julie Collins shared with Frontline a recent case that informed a CSP motion at this year’s TUC disabled workers conference around the complexity of accessing welfare benefits. Ms Collins worked with CSP member Janice* to support and advise her during a serious illness that impacted her entire life.
A senior physio in outpatients, Janice contracted sepsis [a potentially life-threatening condition triggered by an infection or injury] soon after the birth of her child. Her autonomic nervous system was affected with a negative impact on many body functions and she developed post-sepsis fatigue.
As well as working at a senior level in a demanding job, Janice had been studying part-time for a masters in health research and she and the family enjoyed walking, camping and cycling. Ms Collins describes her as ‘a high performer, incredibly active’, and someone who never expected to have to give up her much-loved career and active lifestyle because of ill-health.
The CSP supported Janice in the early days when she was off sick. Initially the steward and later Ms Collins attended meetings with Janice in accordance with the trust attendance management policy. We also put her in touch with the CSP Members Benevolent Fund who provided essential financial support before the family could access any benefits. This was particularly important after Janice’s husband had to stop work to look after the children.
Janice says: ‘Within two years I lost my job, my career, my long-term health and the variety of options to maintain my wellbeing. I was dismissed because I couldn’t recover sufficiently and quickly enough to return to my old job or indeed to engage in any employment as I was struggling to even manage self-care due to the fatigue.’
Janice approached us again recently, highlighting the difficulties she was experiencing with the benefits system. Sepsis and in particular the sometimes multi-system consequences are an area of increasing medical attention as more people survive and with ever more complex presentations. Over the years, Janice has found the claims process traumatic and dehumanising. Ironically, as a health professional, she would previously have been approached to provide evidence as part of the assessment process and her evidence would have been accepted without question. However, as a claimant, she has felt that the system is predicated on an assumption that her evidence cannot be relied on. She has had eight assessments in the last 10 years, even though it is obvious now that she will not recover. Each time she has had to subject herself to an energy-sapping but ultimately successful appeal to continue to receive benefits.
She says: ‘The lack of knowledge of sepsis recovery and related conditions has added to the difficulty in the benefits process. People suffering from such conditions are being treated unfairly as a result, and we have less opportunity for support either into work or to access benefits and services.’
Ms Collins says: ‘Unfortunately, at any time, life can deal us a devastating blow. Any member could need to access the support and representation the CSP offer and any of us might need to rely on the benefits system.’
The CSP offers valuable benefits to members in good times and bad. This case shows that individual cases can contribute to both our campaigning activities - in this case the right to rehab - and our broader trade union commitment to promote social justice. We believe that a fair and transparent benefits system that respects the human rights of claimants is essential.
Twelve years on from her original diagnosis, Janice is still unable to work but acknowledges the help she has had to date: ‘I am grateful for the support of the CSP union services, Members Benevolent Fund, as well as my MP, and some other charities and organisations who have been available to turn to and supported our family.’
A 2018 cross-party House of Commons work and pensions committee shared Janice’s concerns after examining the system and taking evidence from claimants. Their report detailed flaws in the system and concluded that a significant minority of claimants with complex presentations were being let down by the current system. The recent successful motion to the TUC disabled workers conference highlighted the difficulties of claimants like Janice, committing the TUC to press for the recommendations of the select committee to be fully implemented and for the government to invest more in the rehabilitation of ill and disabled people to maximise their potential.
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