Workers ‘left in limbo’

8 Jan 2024

A group of low-paid workers at Derbyshire County Council buildings are facing a Christmas full of fear as they wait to hear from their employer whether they will still have jobs come springtime.

Earlier this year the council announced plans to shut ten sites in the Chesterfield area and move more than 500 staff under one roof at the former Royal Mail building off Boythorpe Road.

As the authority seeks to plug a £46 million hole in its budget, many of its employees will be anxious about where the cuts fall, both for their own job security and the impact on vital services and those who depend on them.

But for the cleaners, care-takers and other maintenance staff at the ten axed offices, the questions are equally pressing and their employer - a joint venture between the council and the private company Vertas - has so far failed to provide any answers.

Speaking to the Derbyshire Times, one worker who was originally employed by the council before being transferred to Vertas Derbyshire when it launched in 2020, asked to remain anonymous to avoid any reaction which could affect her job prospects.

She said: “No-one’s ever been and talked to us, no-one’s told us when we have to leave. We don’t have a clue. There must be at least 20 of us across all the buildings, and we’ve been in contact with each other and everyone’s waiting to hear. There’s been no communication at all.

“We first heard the building was possibly closing from rumours going around council staff, and it was only confirmed by our manager a few weeks ago. Now we’re over-hearing converations that it’s happening in mid-January but we’re still getting no more concrete information.”

The woman who depends on the part-time job to care for her school age children, added: “It’s nearly Christmas, there’s a cost-of-living crisis, rents and prices are higher and higher and we don’t know when we might be losing our jobs. I am losing my sleep over it, I’m incredibly stressed.”

The sense of apprehension increased when Vertas workers were invited to register interest in applying for new positions at the Boythorpe Road offices starting in January, though indications are there would be fewer roles, fewer hours available, different shift patterns and therefore likely to mean less pay.

The woman said: As I understand it there are only six vacancies and we’d all have to interview for them. There’s been no real explanation.”

While the outsourcing arrangement means Vertas is contractually responsible for the employees, those affected feel the council could be doing much more to look out for them.

The woman said: “After everything we did through the pandemic to keep buildings clean and safe so children’s services and adult social care could keep running, you’d think they might get in touch to let us know something. We all went above and beyond.

“This is the council’s brainchild, moving all these people into one place even when most I’ve spoken to don’t want to go. As they’re the originators for all this, the council should be speaking clearly with Vertas and calling a meeting with everyone who might lost their jobs. There’s been absolutely nothing.

“We’ve spoken to our managers, and they say no-one is talking to Vertas. Our unions don’t know any more either. Everyone is waiting on the county council.”

The Derbyshire office of trade union Unison, which represents some of the workers, confirmed it was standing ready to support its members but was unable to discuss the situation in detail until it had received more information on the employer’s intentions.

Neither Vertas nor the county council were able to provide any reassurance to the workers when contacted by the Derbyshire Times.

A spokesperson for the authority said: “Cleaning and caretaking services are provided by Vertas as part of our joint venture rather than directly by the council. We have been working in partnership with Vertas regarding this change for some time, however as there are multiple site closures, this move to a new location is complex and therefore some of the details have been unable to be confirmed initially until the exact closure dates of the sites have been established.

“We informed Vertas in November of proposed date ranges for when closures are to take place but we don’t have exact dates just yet.”

They added: “Vertas has been carrying out informal consultation with the affected employees and will conclude formally once exact closure dates are confirmed.

“We would hope that Vertas are able to offer those affected employment elsewhere locally, but we do understand that this is a worrying time for all those involved.”

A representative for Vertas did not answer questions on how many jobs were currently in jeopardy, the terms on which new roles were being offered, any possible alternative to redundancies  or the company’s communication strategy.

Instead they echoed the council’s position, saying: “We have been working in partnership with Derbyshire County Council regarding this change, however as there are multiple site closures, this move to a new location is complex and therefore some of the details have been unable to be confirmed initially until the exact closure dates of the sites have been established.

“We have been carrying out informal consultation with the affected employees and will conclude formally once exact closure dates are confirmed.

“We remain dedicated to supporting employees through these changes and are committed to handling this transition with sensitivity and care, offering redeployment where available to affected employees.”

 

Ed Dingwall, Buxton Advertiser, 21 Dec 2023