SBHA director hits back in ongoing row

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The SBHA director involved in talks with the Unite union over proposed changes to tradesmen’s start times is mystified why union members are voting on industrial action.

Speaking to the Wee Paper, Alan Vass, director of technical services, said SBHA had agreed to present proposals to the union officials at a pre-arranged meeting on July 21.

He said he ‘can’t understand’ why union members are going to vote next week on industrial action when the latest proposals are not on the table.

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.

Mr Vass said SBHA had a good record of discussing matters with employees and the unions, and added that the housing association is prepared to make concessions to staff for the change to start times.

Mr Vass said: “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.”

He added: “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.”

The proposed change to the maintenance staff’s start time is aimed at driving efficiencies and enabling the association to take on more external contracts.

Mr Vass said: “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 Vass told us that the start time changes had first been proposed in February last year, but had only been brought up again in the past month.

Tony Trench, regional organiser of Unite, said branches from Edinburgh and Glasgow housing associations have given their ‘full support’ to the affected SBHA staff.

Mr Trench added that a meeting between all parties is scheduled for next Tuesday.

“Hopefully we can maybe resolve the issue then, but the ballot will go ahead no matter what.

“We want meaningful talks, not a sham,” Mr Trench said, adding that union members will likely get the ballot papers next Monday.

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