National Trust says staff are a barrier to forests sales?
Ahead of a Coalition statement tomorrow on the future of our forests, the National Trust has issued a set of principles to “guide any proposed disposals” that seem to suggest employment rights “may act as a barrier to outsourcing and thus accelerate job losses.” Have we got this right?
The NT’s principles have been sent to Government today, and are perhaps mean to help smooth the path for privatisation, given the public outcry that forest sales is provoking. The principles follow consultations with other nature, wildlife and conservation groups. But not trade unions. Nor the Committee on Climate Change.
While anyone concerned about the Coalition’s misguided intentions would welcome the National Trust saying “We endorse the public’s concern over the future of Britain’s forests”. Nevertheless, the principles the NT endorses seem to fall a long way short on two key issues, the threat of privatisation to:
- the job security, experience and skills of 3,300 forest staff,
- our climate change targets, as forests save and store CO2.
The Future of Britain’s forests’ three key principles are:
- conservation and public access value of any site being considered for disposal is properly safeguarded for the future under any new management or ownership arrangements;
- if any land is transferred to conservation organisations or community groups, the sites should be adequately funded by government;
- If such support is not guaranteed, the Trust will argue that important conservation assets should remain in the care of the appropriate public body in order to fulfil the government’s responsibility to protect their public value.
Forestry Commission staff may draw cold comfort from the NT’s views on the staffing implications of the sale of our forests, that staffing issues “may act as a barrier to outsourcing and thus accelerate job losses, as well as being unfair to existing staff of third sector bodies.”
The NT acknowledges that, “Government must ensure compliance with legislation governing procurement and transfer arrangements, and retains responsibility for any liabilities arising, in particular, the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006.”
But: “Staffing is the most significant cost in land management. Greatest economies are likely to be made by transferring staff from the public to the charitable sector.”
“ Staff transfers are subject to the TUPE Regulations, that are designed to ensure that staff are transferred without detriment to their terms and conditions of employment (this includes their final salary pension schemes). Thus, although designed to protect staff, TUPE may act as a barrier to outsourcing and thus accelerate job losses, as well as being unfair to existing staff of third sector bodies. Experience suggests that it is highly unlikely that the contingent liabilities linked to pension benefits would be acceptable to responsible governing bodies of charities without robust risk transfer guarantees.”
Hopefully the NT will reconsider these comments after it has spoken to the unions representing the 3,300 staff affected, and devise principles that respect employment rights and not see the staff as a “barrier” t asset sales.