Reaching new agreements with trade unions is a distraction from the important discussions the NHS needs to have with staff about service change, recrutiment and efficiency

Last week my trust signed a service level agreement with our largest trade union.

We are one of the first trusts to sign this new agreement and I’m really pleased we’ve done it. It cements further the approach to partnership working we enjoy and it makes us compliant with some new legislation.

But (of course there was going to be a “but”) it has been a complete distraction: a distraction for me, a distraction for the organisation and a distraction for trade unions. It’s an agreement that should have been completely unnecessary.

The NHS is rightly proud of the social partnership we have with trade unions

We reached an understanding and signed the agreement, because we had to.

Legislation introduced this year as part of the Trade Union Act requires employers to charge a reasonable fee to unions to provide the service of making deductions for union subscriptions directly from pay – known as DOCAS (deduction of contributions at source) or “check off”.

Extensive lobbying by unions, the TUC and some employers significantly watered down the original proposals, which would have prevented employers from facilitating union members’ deductions from pay.

As it happens, we have always charged a fee for this service. A review of the work involved to provide the services means we have been able to slightly reduce the fee. Our costs are still covered.

These agreements need to be in place by April 2018. However, we have reached the agreement early and I know a few more trusts will quickly follow to help rapid completion of the sign-up process by other trusts.

Trade union deductions from payroll are the least of our worries

We have all got more important things to spend our time doing. We don’t want union officials traipsing up and down the country signing up organisations so they can comply with the new law. We don’t want HR managers and directors in meetings negotiating on the fees to charge unions for making payroll deductions. It would be great if the rest of the NHS could sign up quickly and we would avoid this becoming a distraction.

The NHS is rightly proud of the social partnership we have with trade unions and in these challenging times we need to keep hold of our positive and constructive relationships.

We also share a common aim of providing the best possible care to patients and a service that tax payers can be proud of.

These relationships will be tested to the limit as we discuss service changes across sustainability and transformation partnership footprints, cost improvement programmes and efficiencies, recruitment, reconfiguration and staff engagement, working practices and terms and conditions, shared services and improving safety and quality.

It is a heavy, complex and sensitive agenda.

Trade union deductions from payroll are the least of our worries.

Dean Royles is HR director at Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust

HR directors warn new union rules are 'complete distraction'