Some public health workers in local government are stuck in pay ‘limbo’ after being denied the increases awarded to both council and NHS colleagues following their transfer out of the health service.

Staff working in the public health functions that transferred from the NHS to local authorities on 1 April 2013 made the switch with their existing NHS pay and conditions.

However, changes to transfer of undertakings protection of employment regulations, known as TUPE, which came into effect in January last year, mean that while an incoming employer is bound by the collective agreement in force at the time of the staff transfer, it is no longer necessarily bound by any changes agreed by the outgoing employer after the date of transfer.

As a result of this “static” TUPE approach, councils do not have to give public health workers any pay increases awarded to their NHS colleagues after the transfer. In 2014 some NHS staff received a 1 per cent non-consolidated pay rise and some an incremental pay rise.

Local government workers earning £14,880 and above received a 2.2 per cent pay increase from 1 January, with higher percentage increases for lower earners, but some councils have not awarded their public health employees this rise either, HSJ’s sister title Local Government Chronicle has learnt.

One director of public health, whose team received neither the NHS nor local government pay rise, told LGC: “There’s potential for us to remain in limbo forever and a day. That’s a situation it’s difficult to explain to staff who transferred in good faith.”

The trade union Unison has suggested some councils may be taking the opportunity to withhold rises so as to standardise pay and conditions between existing and new workers.

Heather Wakefield, the union’s head of local government, said the situation was not widespread but that she knew of five councils that had not paid their public health workers the local government rise, despite the fact they are now local government employees, or the NHS increase. The union is lodging pay claims at a local level on the workers’ behalf.

“The councils might be using it to lever the unions into negotiation over harmonising pay and conditions between the existing local government workers and the transferred NHS workers because, in general, NHS pay and conditions are better than local government,” she said.

“It is absolutely outrageous that staff should be denied a pay increase. We are going to fight as hard as we can to make sure these members all receive it.”

Steve Watkins, deputy chair (local government) of the British Medical Association’s public health medicine committee, said: “It’s extremely important that there should continue to be mobility for professional staff between the different parts of the health service – that’s to say local government, the NHS and Public Health England – and disparity in pay between those different entities is highly undesirable.

“If local government pitches itself below the market rate in the health service, it will find it’s attracting the less able staff.”