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Thursday 14 February 2019

FDA helps improve House of Commons staff's workplace

As the Palace of Westminster literally crumbles, the FDA has submitted evidence to improve the workplace for House of Commons staff.

FDA National Officer Helen Kenny, alongside House of Commons Trade Union Side President Ken Gall, attended a meeting of the Joint Committee on the Draft Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill, to scrutinise the proposed Act of Parliament. They were joined by Chair of ParliaAble Sean House and Members and Peers Staff Association Chair Georgina Kester. Together, they provided oral evidence on the Bill.

Complaints of fallen masonry and other shoddy facilities demonstrate that the building is not currently fit for being the seat of Government. To address these issues, Parliament has agreed to both restore and renew the Palace. The aim of this is to ensure the Palace is a safe, modern and accessible place to work.

The Bill demands the establishment of a Sponsor Body who would manage the improvement project. It would have “overall responsibility for the Parliamentary building works” and would form and fund the Delivery Authority. This Authority, in turn, would “formulate proposals in relation to the restoration works, and ensure their operational delivery.”

When asked by Lord Blunkett if she thought “that staff, and staff organisations, could help with ensuring that we reflect forward, but that we also hold on to what has been decided before”, Kenny said that “the collective memory of trade unions is often greater than the collective memory of employers… How you build in what we need to do for people in the future is by asking the people who work there now and taking their views on board.”

She also asserted that staff could and should collectively sign off on a business case that would ultimately be delivered to the Delivery Authority, in the same way Parliamentarians are going to. “As trade unions,” she explained, “we are quite good at gathering views and generating consensus among members. We are a democracy.”

Kenny underscored the “protection for staff who might transfer to the Sponsor Body or, indeed, the Delivery Authority” and the “legal obligation to consult” with House trade unions “in a redundancy situation” of any staff.

Following the meeting, Kenny and her Trade Union Side colleagues are submitting several recommendations for the Bill. Specifically, they asked for an amendment to clearly state a commitment for Sponsor Body plans to be developed “following full and proper consultation with people who work (or will work) there and their trade union representatives.”

They also are submitting written evidence asking for good communications to keep staff well informed during the inevitable Palace of Westminster decanting process; for trade union recognition from both the Sponsor Body and Delivery Authority; and for the “process for the transfer of posts” for staff entering these two areas “to be clear and well-managed”.

The FDA continues to be actively involved in this process and will continue to represent the needs of our House of Commons based members.

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