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  • Writer's pictureUNISON Falkirk Branch

Hybrid Working UNISON waiting on response to concerns raised in December

Hybrid Working

UNISON waiting on response to concerns raised in December

Last year UNISON registered a variety of concerns with Falkirk Council regarding a proposed hybrid working policy

For clarity, these concerns were not about hybrid working as such, rather the failure of the policy to address key concerns arounds health & safety, additional costs to the employee, IT kit, decision to cut desk space and that hybrid working should be voluntary and have the flexibility for staff to opt in and out (what was being proposed was a fundamental change to employee’s contracts).

Falkirk Council choose not to respond to UNISON concerns

UNISON lodged concerns with Falkirk Council in November, but heard nothing from them until March when without consultation or notice they issued ‘guidance’ on hybrid working

UNISON has since raised more concerns with Falkirk Council regarding the issuing Hybrid working ‘guidance’. UNISON raised our view that the guidance is less guidance and more a rebranding of the original working from home policy. Alarmingly, the new document has been produced without meaningful negotiation with trade unions.

UNISON is concerned and are of the view, that the move by the council to slash available office space by 50% will mean members have no option, other than to sign up to a non-existent Hybrid working policy.

This may see members incur additional costs and continue to be expected to work in an environment which may be unsuitable. They may also be forced to enter a workspace lottery for a hot desk on the days they are assigned back to the office.

As stated, the last time we updated you on this issue UNISON is not against the idea of homeworking and remain open minded about the potential benefits this could deliver for our members.

Homeworking played a major part in keeping vital council staff safe and services running through the COVID-19 pandemic and is fast becoming a new normal for many workers. It remains relevant however, that proposals must be fit for purpose, equality proofed, be voluntary and not be detrimental for employees.

UNISON’s cause for concern is as follows:

• The guidance released by Falkirk Council has been produced without being based on any agreed or formal policy. Falkirk Council currently have no hybrid working policy. UNISON feel this demonstrates a lack of adequate planning and engagement for a change in working of this magnitude.

• The content of the guidance document that has been released goes beyond guidance and will have an impact on the terms and conditions of our members.

• The potential changes staff could face amounts to a variation of contract.

• Whilst Falkirk Council will see significant savings from these changes there is no plan for savings to be passed onto our members. In fact, given the exorbitant increases to fuel and household bills, members that take up Hybrid working are likely to carry an increased financial burden for the council.

• There is also an absence of equality proofing for any of the proposals and no detail is forthcoming on how the employer will manage health and safety, safeguard data, resolve issues with IT or counter the impact the changes may have on team working

Council Cuts to available office and desk space

Following discussions with council senior management, UNISON was informed that there had already been a decision made as part of the Anytime – Anywhere proposal to reduce the number of desks by 20% and to move to hot desking.

That figure appears to be based upon projected sickness and annual leave absence levels.

Falkirk Council are now mooting a move to a 50% reduction in desk space. For a cut this drastic UNISON are concerned Falkirk Council would rely on iron grip control, of when leave may be taken, to free desk space. This could reduce opportunities of workers to take leave at a mutually beneficial time for their work-life balance.

Falkirk council would also struggle to secure appropriate desk space given the seasonal variation of sickness absence.

Had the Falkirk Council monitored the impact of a 20% cut in desk space while developing a robust hybrid working policy, there would be less cause for concern. To UNISON the 50% cut appears opportunistic and takes no account of the personal circumstances of our members.

As we have advised previously UNISON has major concerns over the use of hot desking and home working as a means of providing a hybrid working solution.

UNISON believe employers should as a minimum be able to provide all staff with:

1) Reasonable adjustments for those who require adaptations

2) Access to working close to their usual place of work

3) The ability to work closely with colleagues in their immediate team dynamic

4) Reduce stress at work

5) Improved ways for staff carry out their roles

6) A safe, clean comfortable working environment

7) Appropriate equipment to perform their jobs to a satisfactory level

The proposals on how these aspirations are to be achieved remain to be seen and UNISON have concerns that on the days staff are required to attend offices, they will spend additional time trying to find and familiarise themselves with a workspace. That issue on top of an already increasing and stressful workload this does nothing to improve staff comfort, morale, or wellbeing.

On behalf of our members UNISON have made the arguments that

o Our members have worked throughout the pandemic and have been more than flexible in delivering Council services, indeed they have gone above and beyond so why do Falkirk Council need to rush this through?

o Falkirk Council already has a working from home policy that could be used until a Hybrid working has been fully considered.

o We remain for now, in a pandemic; the employers’ own assessment of risk advises staff to continue to work from home were possible. Why are staff being told to sign up for Hybrid working or face a forced return to a workplace, less suitable than they had pre-COVID?

UNISON do not believe that there has been adequate information or assurance provided around the specific questions above.

Given the preceding, UNISON is calling on Falkirk Council to;

1. Amend the issued ‘guidance’ to make it truly guidance and not delivered as a take it or leave it ultimatum.

2. Classify this document as “interim” guidance on returning to work following the pandemic.

3. Communicate the guidance issued consistently to all groups of staff.

4. Ensure guidance issued is compliant with current Health & Safety policy

5. Consider statutory equalities legislation and assess how staff are impacted by this change.

UNISON will be back with a further update once Falkirk Council provide a response to our December communication and a timeline for future discussions.

In the meantime, concerns have been raised about members being pressurised by a feeling that they need to sign up to the hybrid working guidance or return to the workplace full time. UNSION has also picked these concerns up with the employer.

Should anyone feel they have been forced into signing up for hybrid working, or feel they are not getting what they signed up for, then we encourage you to contact the branch for support ASAP.

Be careful what you ‘volunteer’ for or sign up to ……the devils in the detail and UNISON have concerns that all the detail is not apparent

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