Staff at therapists’ union seek counselling over ‘fire and rehire’ plan | Counselling and therapy

Staff at a therapists’ trade union are threatening to strike over plans to make one in 10 of them redundant which have driven many to seek therapy themselves.

Workers at the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT) said they were given just three days to decide whether to accept redundancy or reapply for other jobs on worse terms in a process criticised as “fire and rehire”.

Unite, the trade union representing many of the affected workers, who include counsellors, therapists and support staff, has called on RCOT bosses to “scrap their callous redundancies” or “face the consequences”, including strike action.

“A union is disgracefully using fire and rehire to attack its own workers. It’s rank hypocrisy from the Royal College of Occupational Therapists that champions workplace wellbeing,” Sharon Graham, Unite’s general secretary, said.

“The stress that workers are under is cause enough for them to seek therapy themselves. You could hardly make this up.

“The Royal College must immediately scrap this redundancy process and negotiate with Unite. The workers have their union’s full support and we leave all options on the table to support our members.”

RCOT is registered as an independent trade union with 35,000 members who work in occupational therapy, a discipline that focuses on supporting individuals struggling physically or mentally with day-to-day tasks. The organisation, headquartered in south London, claims to have “championed the profession and the people behind it for over 90 years”.

It told staff on 17 October that one in 10 of its workforce, which is about 100 strong, were at risk of redundancy. Unite said they were given “just three full days to decide whether to take a poor redundancy package or apply for other jobs on worse terms”.

“Workers who unsuccessfully apply for alternative employment will be forced out on statutory redundancy terms,” Unite added, pointing out it is just weeks away from signing a formal recognition deal with the college.

Unite regional officer Matthew Freeman said: “Rather than negotiate with Unite, the Royal College would rather drop its principles and act like some of the worst employers around.

“The college has put its loyal staff under tremendous stress and pressure. This smacks of anti-union behaviour just weeks before Unite signs a recognition agreement.

“We even have some members seeking counselling because of the toll this announcement is having on their mental health. The college faces considerable reputational damage if it presses ahead and Unite will not hesitate to use its considerable firepower to support its members.”

The affected staff include people who represent occupational therapists in their workplaces. Others do a range of roles such as administration, finance and policy. Some are occupational therapists themselves, who are also members of the college.

The workers had to indicate their interest in voluntary redundancy or a different job by midday on Friday 21 October. They had the weekend to complete their job applications, with interviews on Tuesday and a decision on Wednesday. Workers opting for VR have to sign a non-disclosure agreement by 31 October.

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One of the affected workers said the situation had been “extremely stressful” for all employees and she and many others had sought counselling as a result.

“I was told on Monday afternoon, while on holiday, that my job was being made redundant,” said the worker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “I’m really worried about how I am going to cope.

“I’m already on antidepressants for depression and anxiety and I will need more treatment now. It just feels extremely hypocritical for the Royal College of Occupational Therapists to be treating its staff like this.”

An RCOT spokesperson said: “We recognise that this is a very difficult situation for colleagues as we carry out necessary reorganisation to how the RCOT operates and delivers for its members. The reorganisation follows established practice and is within a legal framework, recognising the needs of colleagues and offering them support needed at what is a difficult time.

“We haven’t taken these decisions lightly, nor are they easy, but they are necessary. As a member-led organisation we have a duty to ensure that RCOT is best placed to deliver for our members – these changes will enable that.

“We have provided a range of support options for colleagues throughout and remain in constant dialogue with the affected staff. We set the timescales with the aim of reducing the duration of uncertainty.

“A number of new roles have been created at RCOT and staff at risk of potential redundancy have been encouraged to apply for these new roles or to consider taking an enhanced redundancy package. At the end of this change process there will be a net increase in staff headcount to support our plans to do more for our members.”

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