New contracts imposed?

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pi
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May 27 2017 11:09
New contracts imposed?

So 2 days ago management declared they want us to accept new contracts. We are a group of semi skilled technical workers in a larger workplace. The new contracts will have us swap weekdays with some weekend working. The management are offering nothing in return for this change. They came in assuming we would sign without question. It was unanimously rejected. The management are now going to talk to individuals.

I am trying to get my mates to refuse to meet individually. Unfortunately without success. However, there is an anger I wouldn't have anticipated. We are having secret meetings to discuss how we react.

I have been crash reading on employment law but it's as clear as mud to me how to even know if the new contracts can be imposed. I have been saying they can't 'simply' impose it as a holding position. Above all I am saying there is nothing they can do if we all refuse to sign (knowing the situation I am very confident they would not sack all of us at once over this).

We are non-unionised. None of us are particularly experienced in this stuff. Any thoughts/observations appreciated.

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Steven.
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May 27 2017 16:35

Hi, thanks for writing your issue up.

Well done for trying to get people to refuse individual meetings. Although if they have the individual meetings it's not the end of the world: the main thing is they don't sign the new contracts.

In legal terms, a change in contract cannot just be imposed on you, workers have to agree for the change.

The only exception would be if management dismisses everyone and re-engages on new terms, through a section 188 notice.

This is kind of the nuclear option, so if they want to maintain employee goodwill, they may be reluctant to do this.

Even if they do this, there are things you can do about it - I will talk more about this below.

So I would try to get you and your colleagues to me collectively and make an agreement not to sign the new contract. As there is nothing management can do to people individually. And the worst that can happen is you will get dismissed re-engaged on the inferior terms.

If they do have individual meetings, people can just say "okay thanks I just need to think about this" or "get advice" or something similar to avoid individual confrontation if they are not comfortable with that.

So if everyone refuses to sign (if a minority of people sign it's not the end of the world), and management takes the nuclear option of dismissing and re-engaging, then you can still fight it.

You can write to management collectively saying you don't agree, and everyone can refuse to work on the weekends.

This would be a bit tricky to pursue, as at some point management will try to make someone work at the weekend, and the refusal will ultimately be down to one individual, so they could be disciplined for refusing. So you will need to come up with a collective response to this in advance.

Alternately there are legal avenues for redress, for example a claim of unfair dismissal, but I wouldn't advise this is the law is extremely weak and shit in this area. (I include a link to a union briefing with legal advice below)

Some questions for you: how many people work for your employer? Are you all in one workplace? Is it a private company? What proportion of the workforce is your team? Do the rest of the employees already have contracts which compel them to work weekends? If not they would be good people to try to get support from, on the basis that if it happens to you first, they will be next.

Has anyone spoken about forming a union? While it wouldn't benefit you in itself, it could give some protections. For example if you or any other key organisers became members or reps you would be legally protected against dismissal for union activity. Also it may mean people might feel more able to take industrial action through a route which was legally protected (although on the flipside, the union bureaucracy may make industrial action impossible, so bear this in mind…).

Anyway those are just a few thoughts from now. Please keep us updated as to what happens!

This is a Unison briefing about dismissal and re-engagement, about the public sector but pretty relevant for private sector as well: https://www.unison.org.uk/content/uploads/2013/06/Briefings-and-Circular...

pi
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May 27 2017 17:36

Steven

Thanks very much for that.

-How many people work for your employer?
Approx 250
-Are you all in one workplace?
4 sites all in the same area.
-Is it a private company?
Yes,.
-What proportion of the workforce is your team?
We are 9 people.
-Do the rest of the employees already have contracts which compel them to work weekends?
The front line staff do work Saturdays while admin do not. We support front line staff. Currently we all go in for a few hours on the occasional Saturday when we are needed. We take time off in lieu. This is an informal arrangement that has worked for years. However, a new manager wants some of us there every saturday wether there is a need or not.

Unionisation has not been discussed. I think that if we make a united demand, say to be compensated for the change, senior management will see they have to pay more for a shit idea that attempts to solve a non-existing problem. So my challenge is to convince my work mates of this.

Ta. I will report back.

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Chilli Sauce
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May 28 2017 09:10

Steven will know more about this than me, but if there's an informal arrangement that's recognised by both staff and mgmt it counts as 'customs and practices' and forms a de facto part of your contract. So, from a legal perspective, there's that angle as well. That said, it's far more about how solidly you and your workmates can stick together - but you could use a rejection on the grounds of customs and practices and the build your response from there.

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Steven.
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May 28 2017 11:07
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Steven will know more about this than me, but if there's an informal arrangement that's recognised by both staff and mgmt it counts as 'customs and practices' and forms a de facto part of your contract. So, from a legal perspective, there's that angle as well. That said, it's far more about how solidly you and your workmates can stick together - but you could use a rejection on the grounds of customs and practices and the build your response from there.

if the contract just as Monday-Friday working, then you don't even need to make a custom and practice argument, as it's clearly written in the contract.

That said, if there are only nine of you, and quite a lot of people already work regular weekends (presumably with no pay enhancement) then this probably won't be easy… Although that being said if you guys do already work Saturdays when needed on a voluntary basis, and that works, then management might not think it's worth trying to force something through which would damage goodwill…

Anyway thanks for the additional info. Such a small group of people out of 250 wouldn't be a good basis for a unionisation drive, and a union almost certainly wouldn't sanction industrial action of such a small group, so I don't really think that would be worth it

one thing I think it's worth stressing to your colleagues is that if they initially refuse and try to fight it, you could win something additional. For example things could stay as they are, or you could potentially negotiate an enhanced rate of pay/toil for Saturday working (if the others already working don't get this this may be unlikely), or you could potentially negotiate a one-off incentive payment to sign up to a new contract.

The absolute worst that can happen is that people just get moved onto the new contracts through dismissal and re-engagement. Which then is no worse off than they would be if they had just signed voluntarily. So literally they have nothing to lose.

Anyway good luck and keep us posted!

pi
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May 28 2017 12:42

Thanks Steven and Chilli. This is all great info.

pi
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May 28 2017 12:51
Steven wrote:
The absolute worst that can happen is that people just get moved onto the new contracts through dismissal and re-engagement. Which then is no worse off than they would be if they had just signed voluntarily.

I know what my work mates will ask when I say the worst that can happen is that we will be sacked and re-employed on the new contract. What stops them just sacking us without being re-employed?

Not that I think it will reach this stage but it would be good to know on what basis I say this.

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Steven.
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May 28 2017 16:16
pi wrote:
Steven wrote:
The absolute worst that can happen is that people just get moved onto the new contracts through dismissal and re-engagement. Which then is no worse off than they would be if they had just signed voluntarily.

I know what my work mates will ask when I say the worst that can happen is that we will be sacked and re-employed on the new contract. What stops them just sacking us without being re-employed?

Not that I think it will reach this stage but it would be good to know on what basis I say this.

Well I guess a further question is how long have people been there for? Technically if someone has been in the job less than two years they have no rights against unfair dismissal (unless the reason for dismissal is "automatically unfair": basically discrimination on a protected characteristic under the equality act like race, gender etc). But for anyone who has been there more than two years they are protected as the only reasons you can dismiss someone are: disciplinary, underperformance, capability, redundancy or some other substantial reason (say they were a delivery driver and they lost their driving licence).

Also, there would not be a benefit to the employer of dismissing you and hiring someone else, as if they wanted they could just make you work the weekends (through dismissal and re-engagement) without the hassle.

Bear in mind this advice is based on the assumption you work for a reasonably rational employer. If of course it is some crazy place run like a tinpot dictatorship where managers arbitrarily fire people regularly for even vaguely questioning management, then they could sack people (although you may win an employment tribunal later). However you would know this better than me.

I just went through something reasonably similar with quite a ruthless private-sector employer (with maybe 1000 employees across dozens of worksites) who were trying to cut people's hours by offering new contracts and trying to get people to sign them. We got pretty much everyone to refuse to sign them. So in the end a couple of people voluntarily signed them as they wanted to reduce their hours, and management decided to leave it, and from now on hire people with fewer hours in their contract. In this case we had a bit more leverage because about a quarter of the workforce was affected, but the situation is reasonably similar.

pi
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May 30 2017 08:34

Steven

Thanks again. All of us have worked there for over two years.

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Steven.
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May 30 2017 08:50
pi wrote:
Steven

Thanks again. All of us have worked there for over two years.

in that case you all have legal protection from unfair dismissal. This would definitely cover you if you were sacked; it could even cover you if you were dismissed in re-engaged, if the decision of the employer was unreasonable. More info in the briefing I linked to above

of course what an employer can do is just illegally sack people, then pay up if they lose a tribunal. However not many employers would do this, and you would probably know if they were the sort that did break the law a lot because you would see people disappear from no reason, see media coverage of lawsuits etc

pi
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Jun 21 2017 22:34

Here's a quick update. Not sure how much info you might be interested in but here goes.

Basically, it's all gone quiet and we think the plans to change our contract have been quietly put to one side.

My workmates and I were all called in for individual meetings with the manager and someone from HR. The first in were those who some of us considered the most likely to go along with anything suggested by management. Wrong! At lunch in the canteen one colleague told us how the manager had been a bit whiny and even said "it's not fair, I have to work every Saturday". She was very funny telling the story - it was a bit of a turning point. Loads better than anything said by the pair of us who were trying to gee things up.. After this everyone went into the meetings being clear about objections. We threatened work to rule, break down of good existing relations, refusing to sign, pointing out it was trouble for no gain. We all started attending dept meetings which is optional for us. Normally we don't bother but made a point of all of us attending so they couldn't discuss us in our absence. The proposed new arrangements were never discussed, it was the elephant in the room, and this was widely perceived as a back down by the management.

Now nothing. Maybe they'll try again in a few months. We shall see.

No big deal, all pretty low key, but it was a shock to the management. And it felt good. Cleaning and IT staff were asking about what was going on too.

Steven. thanks again for the info.

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jef costello
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Jun 23 2017 11:19

Well done!

Thanks for the update!