Unions talk to new provider of fitness to work assessments


Unions talk to new provider of fitness to work assessments

Prospect and the PCS have held initial talks with Maximus, the US company appointed by the government to take over a controversial £500m contract to assess benefit claimants on their fitness to work.

Prospect represents all the medical professionals who carry out such assessments, while PCS members are involved in administering the scheme.

Since the Department for Work and Pensions named Maximus as the new provider on October 30, the unions have met twice with managers from French-owned Atos Healthcare, the company previously holding the contract, and the implementation team from Maximus.

These meetings discussed broad plans on the forthcoming TUPE transfer of staff working on the Work Capability Assessments contract to the new provider, said Prospect national secretary Geraldine McConnell.

“At this stage, all parties have now determined all staff who are in scope for the transfer and we are just finalising all of the terms and conditions of service and agreements covered by the TUPE legislation,” she said.

For more information on TUPE, see Prospect’s Members’ Guide to TUPE regulations, which was updated this month.

Maximus is currently working on a statement of measures for all those terms and conditions of service and policies that it cannot replicate, and this will include pensions, said O’Connell.

She added: “We have welcomed positive statements from Maximus in respect of job security and they stated that they had previous experience of working with unions in Canada.

“We reiterated that the unions were recognised for collective bargaining purposes and we wanted to work with the company to ensure that members gained some positive improvements from the new ownership of this contract.”

Atos Healthcare has launched a new communication for staff, “Mytransition – Bi-weekly Bulletin”, setting out the details of planned visits by Maximus to medical examination centres over the next two weeks.

Unity is strength

O’Connell stressed: “The best way to protect pay, jobs, workloads and terms and conditions is to have a strong union presence in all workplaces. If you are not already a member of Prospect, or someone who is not yet a member, please share this communication with them and encourage them to join Prospect.”

Members with queries about the new provider or how the changes will affect them can speak to their local Prospect rep or email O’Connell directly at [email protected].

The unions have provisionally agreed with ATOS and Maximus to meet weekly between now and Christmas, with further updates to be published.

Caught in crossfire

ATOS said in February 2014 that it was seeking early withdrawal from the contract in the wake of protests outside its offices over the way Work Capability Assessments had been conducted. 

At the time O’Connell said: “Sadly, it is our members who are delivering this contract and have been caught in the crossfire.

“Already they have felt themselves to be the scapegoats of government policy and borne the brunt of criticisms that should have been addressed to the DWP and the government.

“Now they face even more uncertainty as the contract comes up for review.”

In its October news release, the DWP said the contract with Maximus was “part of a concerted drive to ensure that people who need an assessment get the best possible service. Since 2010 there have been four independent reviews of the WCA and the government has implemented the majority of the recommendations.”

Maximus plans to hire a “significant number” of additional healthcare professionals to undertake assessments, including those specialising in mental health.

The new contract will run from March 2015 for an initial period of three years.