Letter to Shetland Islands Council

Created on: 17 Apr 2020 | Last modified: 30 Jun 2021

Dear Mr Coutts

Shetland Islands Council Meeting Thursday 26th March 2020
Decision on Shetland College Merger
COVID-19 Pandemic

As you are aware, the EIS has made a number of representations to Shetland Islands Council regarding the proposed college merger over the past number of months. Primarily, these representations have focussed on our opposition to the
recommendation that the newly merged college should be a non-incorporated private limited company.

As you will note from the enclosed consultation questions and submissions, EIS members at Shetland College are focussed on two main lines of argument: that due diligence has not been done with regards the information which has encouraged the recommendation to privatise Shetland College, and that genuine and effective consultation has not taken place regarding the impact of this recommendation on members’ terms and conditions.

The EIS members at Shetland College would have made these contentions at the CLJCC which was scheduled for Monday 23rd March 2020. This CLJCC, only the second diarised to take place since the issue of merger was first raised at CLJCC in December 2018, was scheduled for three days prior to the full Shetland Islands Council meeting which was due to take a final decision on merging Shetland College and outsourcing it from the Council’s control.

The fact that this CLJCC was scheduled three days prior to the full Council meeting, when it would have been impossible to fully answer questions put at the CLJCC, and improbable that minutes of the CLJCC would be prepared and agreed for sight by the Council, is an indication of the lack of respect shown to trade union members and the insufficient weight placed on collective bargaining procedures which cement your legal duties and obligations to genuinely and effectively consult with staff via the recognised trade union.

The inadequacy in your processes and procedures for consultation was highlighted further by the cancellation of the CLJCC on 23rd March whilst the Council meeting was due to go ahead, face to face, on 26th March with EIS members observing virtually.
We now note that the full Council meeting has been cancelled but that matters requiring a full Council decision during this period will be progressed in accordance with existing delegated authority, Council policy and/or legislative emergency powers.

The EIS knows that this pandemic is causing all communities, in particular in Shetland, high levels of stress and anxiety with information and advice changing constantly. Decisions are often made and then quickly superseded. However, this is not an opportunity to shirk your duties and responsibilities to collective bargaining.

On the contrary. Most employers we bargain with, whether they are espousers of Fair Work or not, have now suspended any non-immediate or COVID-19 related meetings and processes until the external situation has calmed down and staff and communities can better focus again on processes of due diligence, consultation and negotiation.

Indeed, following the EIS meeting with SFC on 7th February 2020, where we raised concern that the Shadow Board were relying on SFC advice that privatisation of the College was the best option; EIS representatives were due to meet SFC again on 18th March in order to receive the SFC response on this matter. This meeting was cancelled due to the outbreak of the pandemic. As such, the EIS do not have full and final submissions to provide to the Council this week, due to circumstances entirely beyond our control.

It is unconscionable that Shetland Islands Council are, instead, using this pandemic to camouflage a lack of genuine consultation. Therefore, in order to allow for a better period of consultation due to COVID-19 and the concerns of EIS-FELA regarding the lack of meaningful consultation, to be addressed, we would strongly urge the council to consider not taking any decision on the College merger at the moment.

This letter, including our written consultation questions and submissions which are enclosed under protest at the process, will be forwarded to Richard Lochhead MSP in order to highlight your outrageous disregard for democratic process.

Kind regards
Sarah Collins
Area Officer