Asylum deal in doubt over staff transfer

THE future for hundreds of asylum seekers in Glasgow has been thrown into fresh doubt after claims a new contract to support and house them is on the brink of collapse.

Just four weeks before the services are due to be transferred from Glasgow City Council to Ypeople, the council has written to the UK Government claiming Ypeople has not met legal and financial obligations for staff being moved to the new provider.

Ypeople, formerly known as YMCA Glasgow. Based in Govan, Ypeople has been a leading provider of housing and support to vulnerable Scots since 1824.

Meanwhile, Unison, which represents the 34 staff concerned, has threatened strike action. It says the transferred staff’s pension provision will not be maintained, and opposes new shift patterns and a change of operating base. It also says the staff will only have employment guaranteed until May 2012.

The fallout follows the Home Office decision to terminate the 10-year contract it had with the council to provide support for asylum seekers, claiming it was not getting value for money.

The decision was followed by a letter to all asylum seekers telling them they could be moved at just a few days’ notice, sparking protests, an apology from UK Immigration Minister Damien Green, and a decision to delay the transfer to Ypeople to smooth out a number of issues.

Now, in a letter sent to a number of politicians and seen by The Herald, the council’s head of social work, David Crawford, describes unsatisfactory exchanges with Ypeople on the pension liabilities and says the council is seeking urgent meetings on the matter.

He also says the council has demanded plans for letters to be sent to all asylum seekers informing them of the date of the transfer and what will be involved be halted until Ypeople can provide assurances they are “able to accept the sub-contract under Tupe”.

Tupe is an important part of UK labour law that protects employees who are being transferred to another business and ensures they do not move on to worse working conditions.

The letter says: “We have expressed concern to UKBA [UK Border Agency] regarding Ypeople’s ability and capacity to provide assurances that the transition from Glasgow City Council to Ypeople will take place on April 3.

“Our concerns centre around Ypeople’s reluctance to engage with Strathclyde Pension Fund, which we understand they did for the first time on March 2. We are very concerned that this level of uncertainty impacts negatively on the staff group and is also creating a very uncertain future for the support-service users.

“Given the current financial circumstances, the council has no option but to pursue Tupe and ensure Ypeople are able to provide appropriate assurances to both UKBA and our staff group on their intentions re pensions terms and conditions etc.”

A source added: “At the end of the day if they can’t meet these obligations the thing collapses.”

A Unison spokesman said: “We are appalled at this privatisation of council workers’ job.”

He added: “We will use all legal and industrial means to avoid the transfer of our members. We are now balloting the affected members for strike action and considering how to widen any action.”

But Joe Connolly, the chief executive of Ypeople, said: “We are comfortable with the way it is progressing. The transfer will happen and Ypeople will meet all its legal requirements, both in terms of staff and the contract.” He said he wished to reassure service users that Ypeople would make the transfer and meet their needs.

Phil Taylor, UKBA regional director, said talks between Ypeople, Glasgow Housing Association and UKBA are continuing. “The transfer is not in doubt,” he added.