work to rule

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kell1
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Oct 15 2012 20:44
work to rule

Hi I just wondered if anyone would be able to answer a query I have, If a work force was to work to rule do they have to give their employer formal notice and if so how much?

Thank you, kell1

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Steven.
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Oct 15 2012 20:55

It would depend what country you are in. Is it the UK? Or elsewhere?

kell1
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Oct 15 2012 21:00

hi steven it's the Uk.

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Steven.
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Oct 15 2012 21:49

Right, well technically apparently work to rules have now been designated as official industrial action, and so legally they need to be subjected to an official ballot, the same as strike action.

Now, this seems completely perverse, especially as working to rule technically is only doing what you are supposed to! But unfortunately that is the legal situation for workers in the UK.

So for an official ballot to take place the employer has to be notified of the vote, and then has to be notified again seven days before action starts.

However, depending on the situation at your workplace, how many of you there are, how solid you are and how much leverage you have, if you have the strength to just start it as unofficial action then that's the best thing to do.

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Chilli Sauce
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Oct 16 2012 09:46

Diddo on above. Like most actions, it's far more likely to be successful if it hits the bosses by surprise (ie without notice and without a ballot). For example, the "piss strike":

Due to the potentially dangerous nature of the work, out on the underground tracks in the night, there were numerous rules and regulations which if followed to the letter virtually brought work to a standstill.

One particularly imaginative direct action was the ‘piss strike’. One of the health and safety regulations stated that on the tracks, all workers must at all times be accompanied by a ‘Protection Master’- a member of the workforce trained to provide safety from trains and traction current. This meant each gang tended to have just the one Protection Master, as management didn’t want to waste money training up any more than they had to. Workers turned management’s thrift into a weakness. Ordinarily if the (overwhelmingly male) staff needed to urinate, they’d simply go on the tracks. However when management tried to stop the job-and-knock system, workers decided they’d have to use an actual toilet.

The toilet could be a good distance from the actual point of work out on the tracks, which meant a long walk. Of course they had to be accompanied by the Protection Master. This then left the rest of the gang without protection, so they’d have to come along too. The whole gang would therefore traipse to the toilet and back, only to return and have someone else realise they ‘needed’ to go too!

The piss strike proved remarkably effective, with very little work getting done. Alongside the other work-to-rules, this had almost the effectiveness of a strike – but without the loss of pay and without the risk of being sacked for taking unofficial action in breach of contract. It forced management to completely cave in within two days, and the attempt to end the job-and-knock system was shelved.

(The above is from a SolFed pamphlet, although it's been quoted in this
PCS piece, which is probably also worth a read for you.)

Of course, being successful in that or any work to rule to takes discipline and organisation, so it's all about the dynamics in your workplace.

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jef costello
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Oct 16 2012 16:27

It also depends on what you're asking for. If it's a tactic within negotiations then I'd trust Steven that you are supposed to notify them (although they might have trouble enforcing that. An injunction against a strike doesn't seem to bad press-wise but against a work to rule they'd look like pricks, especislly if it was at all dangerous) If it's a more minor thing then just go into it. You don't even need to tell them. If the strike works then they'll notice soon enough;.

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Oct 16 2012 16:40

Yeah, in the UK technically a work to rule is industrial action. But if they can't prove the union is organising it (i.e. the union repudiates it), that leaves them disciplining workers for breach of contract. Except, for it to be work to rule, workers would be following their contracts obsessively. So it might be tricky to make a disciplinary stick. As always, the best defence is solidarity and numbers.

Spikymike
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Oct 16 2012 16:56

Not directly relevant to the question, but it seems to me that in many (particularly white collar) public and service sector jobs, and in conditions where redundancies have been threatened over the last 10 years or so, that most job descriptions and rule books have been rewritten to require much more flexibillity from workers making 'work to rule' action much more difficult, though the extension of various 'health and safety' legislation has left some openings that can be exploited.

As others have made clear 'working to rule' may well end up in disciplinery measures being taken, justified or not, so workers deciding to use this tactic need to consider preparation for more militant defensive action when that happens.

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Steven.
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Oct 16 2012 17:02

I think Mike is exactly right: most people nowadays have something written into their job descriptions like "and any other reasonable duties". So in most circumstances people will need to be prepared to defy instructions from management - and therefore potentially at risk of disciplinary action.

If you are going to take some action short of strike action, you would be best off also deciding what you will do if management take a disciplinary route against someone, for example by suspending them. Having something like an all-out strike as a backup is worth sounding people out about at least

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Serge Forward
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Oct 16 2012 22:23

The trick is, don't announce a work to rule, organise it on the QT.

Many years ago, when I worked for Hackney Council, management sent out an order that any ringing phone in the office had to be picked up within three rings - this included phones on unattended desks. The union moaned about it, saying it'd interfere with workloads and cause stress. So I suggested to the union that we did exactly what management wanted for a laff. However, the union preferred to bellyache while doing nada, so I unilaterally made sure I personally picked up every unattended phone in the office - and it was a big fucking office with a fair few unattended desks grin

Consequently, I got fuck all actual work done over a number of days. My line manager told me I didn't need to answer every phone but my response was, I'm a stickler and if a job's worth doing, then it's worth doing properly. At some point, management retracted their pissy little order. I like to think that I (and any other literal minded sticklers) played a part in bringing about this management U-turn, although the union swore blind it was them saying 'it's not fair' and sending strongly worded memos that really did the trick.

And Joyce, if by chance you ever read this, I totally shat all over you and your right to fucking manage black bloc

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Chilli Sauce
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Oct 16 2012 23:19

Every libcom post should end with us flaming ex managers!

Quote:
If you are going to take some action short of strike action, you would be best off also deciding what you will do if management take a disciplinary route against someone, for example by suspending them

Yes. Yes. Yes. Innoculate. Inoculate. Inoculate.