The AHW opt in period is now well underway. Our previous lengthy circular, along with a more detailed briefing and a regularly updated FAQ document are available on the ISU website.
However some further points we must update you upon directly have now emerged.
There were teething problems following launch of the Opt-In Window at various locations, sadly including the flagship sites of Gatwick and Heathrow. Both had offered significant, positive commitments in negotiations, particularly around rostering and individual flexibility. However communications fell short when managers were not briefed and so were unable to answer concerns and queries. It was disappointing that this early opportunity for the employer to demonstrate the change in their attitude was missed.
However we have now discussed further with the Department and have received categorical assurances that these shortcomings will be addressed as high priority – for Heathrow & Gatwick. Specifically we have been further assured that Gatwick & Heathrow will do their utmost to meet individual needs with rostering and individual flexibility. We accept those high level commitments but wish to see those reflected on the ground.
While no employer can accommodate every request that might be made, most things they can either do or move some way towards. We have repeatedly pressed these points and now have senior manager commitment that they will make every effort to accommodate staff needs. There is a fresh will to engage with these issues constructively – we urge members to explore what might now be possible.
In light of these issues we have carefully reconsidered our positon on these rostering and work/life balance issues. Given the still more positive commitments we have now secured we can continue to recommend to members at Heathrow and Gatwick that the employer genuinely intends to make the best offers they can to staff during this opt-in window. Flexible rostering options are available and individual attendance pattern arrangements will be positively considered. There is the possibility that responses individuals receive do not meet the letter or spirit of that senior management commitment. In such cases please notify us immediately and we will escalate.
Sadly, some other locations have been more intractable. In particular those where the blanket refusal of individual contracts continues, even for adjusted working patterns which had previously been in place. This is not helpful and will be raised with the head of AHW Assurance at the earliest possible opportunity. However this cannot be before someone is actually appointed to that role. In the meantime if managers are serious about their wish to improve staff engagement, staff morale and perceptions of bullying we call on them to meet us and have a genuine discussion about mutual concerns.
Some other improvements have also been secured since the window opened. After ISU representations the Horizon ready reckoner has been adjusted and is now both more accurate and user-friendly. We have also secured an improvement in the terms offered, so that payment is now available to staff who take up a post on promotion between now and 1st October.
The question of ‘What happens next’ if members don’t change terms and conditions voluntarily remains the elephant in the room. As we said previously, we are told that the Executive Management Board have made no decision on the question. However it is our duty to set out what is possible and to address myths that have gained traction. People have repeatedly put it to us that the employer cannot unilaterally vary the contract of employment. We must reinforce this point – that is not true. Whatever other, less responsible voices may say – it is possible for the employer to do this lawfully.
We are not saying that the employer will certainly try to do this. We don’t know and can only say it’s a possibility. Nor are we saying that if they did so, it would certainly be lawful. There are subtle margins in these things and it may be that avenues of legal challenge would open, particularly around equality issues. We can only say that there are ways in which forced change can be legally achieved. Members should understand that publishing further detail risks providing the employer with a road map to that end – we won’t do that. But we are happy to answer your questions directly. Most importantly we can assure members that we will support them whatever their choice; and if there is an angle for legal challenge we will take it.
In the end, we simply have a duty to bring to members’ attention what is and is not possible here. If this winter the Department decide to vary contracts coercively and we failed to tell you this was possible, you would have good reason to complain that we misled you. We can’t do that – we have to tell you the truth.