Thursday, 10 May 2012

North Somerset UNISON statement on the new Flexi Time policy and Consultative ballot

The normal procedure for consulting on policies at the council is that trade unions including UNISON are provided with the policies and given time to comment before they are issued to managers and staff. In this case a draft of the policy was given to UNISON on 17th April. Then a final version of the policy was issued to all trade unions (including UNISON) for consultation on 24th April - 10 minutes ahead of the email which was sent to all managers to disseminate to staff. We have been given until 24th May to give our comments.

HR's email to managers stated “The refreshed Flexi-Time policy continues to give employees the flexibility to vary their start and finish times from work. Changes have, however, been introduced to the credit and debit hours carry forward scheme to reflect the concern that teams are generally reducing in size and it is becoming increasingly difficult to ensure adequate staffing levels all at all times to meet service delivery needs.”  

“Changes have also been made in response to concerns over an inconsistent approach to the application of the scheme and the need to improve the recording and monitoring arrangements.”

My understanding of why the council want to change the policy is because they have less staff and are finding it operationally difficult to ensure adequate cover. They are also keen to move to a scheme where additional hours, which are then taken as leave, can be monitored, which they argue is not the case currently.

The UNISON office was deluged with phone calls and emails from members from 24th April onwards. As a result I met with HR on 3rd May to feedback members’ comments. These included:

  • Lack of consultation with trade unions before policy was issued
  • Need for an equality impact assessment
  • Flexi not being carried forward into next month and difficulties caused with staff all taking flexi leave on the last day of the month
  • Operational difficulties
  • Staff with caring responsibilities
  • Staff at Castlewood having to start early in order to get a parking space
  • Issues with hot desking
  • Impact on staff morale
  • Flexi not allowed for JM3 and above
HR made it very clear to me that CMT want to abolish flexi days, because they are difficult to keep track of. Instead they want what was once called flexi to effectively become TOIL, which has to be pre-approved by managers, which can be carried forward into the next month, and which is logged on ITRENT so it can be tracked.

My understanding of what they want from the new policy is that flexi-time and flexi leave will only exist within a calendar month. Any other “flexi time” (additional hours) built up effectively has to become TOIL, which has to be preapproved by line managers, and can then be carried over. HR made it clear that they don’t intend to tell line managers what to do in terms of approving TOIL, so it could well be the case however you work currently won’t change. But that you will have to come to either a formal or informal arrangement with your manager about working additional hours.

In my discussion HR also indicated that more than 1 day’s TOIL could be carried over under the new policy, but this doesn’t now seem to be the case, or at least can only happen with Service Manager / Director approval.

In addition I asked HR to make it clear in the policy that the definition of TOIL is not as it was in the old policy, where TOIL was hours worked after 6.30 pm and at weekends. Now TOIL is any additional hours on top of your normal working hours – no matter what time of day or weekend that is. I think this was causing some confusion.

Briefly then my understanding is that what was once called flexi will effectively now be TOIL and in that way it can be carried over into the next month and used within that following month, but that it has to be pre-approved by managers.

HR asked whether UNISON would agree to the policy. I asked HR to send it out again to see how staff felt, and if staff were happy then we could agree. As it is obviously the case that staff are still not happy then UNISON will not agree to this policy. Having said that the council will still implement it and the only way we can then stop it is if all members are prepared to take industrial action. As a result we need to know how members would like to proceed. Ballot papers have been emailed to all reps for distribution, along with those members who contacted us directly with comments. If you have not received a ballot paper, please email to request one. Ballot papers need to be returned to the branch office by 22nd May 2012.

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