How does a CSP senior negotiating officer support local members?
James Allen is the CSP's senior negotiating officer for the southwest of England
What does your role involve?
I support, advise and develop the CSP network of local workplace reps within my region to enable them to represent members on a wide range of employment and workplace issues. I also provide representation directly for members on more complex matters and give advice in the initial stages to those who have been reported to the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). I can be discussing how to raise a query with a manager, dealing with a flexible working request, a TUPE of thousands of NHS staff from one organisation to another, a gross misconduct case, referral to the HCPC. The role is pretty wide-ranging.
Describe a typical day
There is no typical day. I can be office based, on the phone, replying to emails, representing members in hearings, at Bedford Row to work with other CSP staff, attending joint union or management meetings and more. The variety is one of the things that makes the job so interesting. Over the course of a month I am probably out in the region half the time and office-based the remainder, but it is never this simple and there can be days or even weeks in a row away from the office on occasions.
What are the highs and lows?
Obviously getting a good outcome for a member is a massive high, whether this is with their employer or supporting a HCPC case. The lows are that members are often at their lowest points when you speak to them: you do have to have some very difficult conversations with members and be realistic (not give them false hope) about the situation they are in and potential outcomes.
What do you like best about your job?
I particularly enjoy supporting and training the stewards and safety reps. These reps are an amazing group of volunteers who do a huge amount of work for CSP members. Training days are hard work but really enjoyable. I also enjoy meeting members on a regular basis, attending Bedford Row and talking to CSP staff. There isn’t anything I don’t enjoy.
What kind of skills do you need and have you acquired any in the role?
You definitely need resilience as you do deal with challenging situations, and whatever you do, there is no guarantee of the outcome. Having said that, all SNOs do incredible work and get great results for our members. We all work slightly differently. For me, I like to plan ahead (preparation is key for me).
So I can spend hours working through documents, helping members write statements and so on. You obviously need a sound knowledge of employment law as well, and need to be up to date with changes in the legislation and case law. Some skills are similar to physiotherapy, asking questions to get information, ability to analyse this information, reasoning on what you have read and heard, thinking of goals and outcomes.
What about organising?
The CSP has recently taken a more active view of workplace organising and we now have two organising officers who work alongside regional senior negotiating officers to support this work.
Organising means a stronger focus on engaging with members in the workplace, hearing about their concerns and issues, and using this information to help inform our campaigning strategy, national and locally. Organising is about building the capacity of members to work together to bring about positive change in the workplace.
It mostly involves simple steps such as gathering members’ views, through a survey or workplace meetings, building a case to make an improvement in your workplace, promoting it to engage colleagues in your efforts, and progressing it by taking a team approach to owning decisions and outcomes.
We have created a new voluntary role – workplace contact – to strengthen that local team effort, or to be contact in workplaces where there are currently no stewards, and I would urge any members who are able to spare a small amount of time to consider it.
Anything else to share?
I would encourage stewards and safety reps to contact their SNOs for help and support, and for members to contact their CSP workplace reps for assistance too. Don’t delay in doing this: there is a huge advantage in trying to resolve a situation early rather than waiting until everything has fallen apart and trying to pick up the pieces.
Remember, SNOs can’t solve everything. We all work hard to support our stewards, safety reps and members but we unfortunately don’t have magic wands to resolve any situation: we can advise and support to get the best outcome we can.
Furthermore, there’s only a handful of us but 59,000 members! That’s why it is so important to have stewards, safety reps and workplace contacts in your workplace, and make sure these roles are filled.
Working at a local level
SNOs work with other trade unions in their region or country and increasingly closely with other CSP staff responsible for their region, whether from the professional and development or regional campaign teams.
This joined-up approach to wider local matters helps us better influence issues relating to public services, the NHS and physiotherapy, from threats of service cuts to opportunities for service expansion including longer term workforce planning.
Within the CSP, this is a new way of working designed to reflect the shift in decision-making on commissioning and designing services to a regional and local level through sustainability and transformation partnerships, for example. We are still at the really early stages but we hope it will bring really tangible results for members and the future of the profession.
In my region I have been most busy recently working with human resources directors around the area to improve NHS policies (for example, the ‘Just Culture’) and with the TUC and affiliated unions including the Royal College of Midwives to plan trade union events such as the Tolpuddle Festival in July, which celebrates the trade union movement.
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