Monday, April 06, 2009

Flexibility?

Flexibility is a much trumpeted virtue, but not always a good thing.

Changes today to the ACAS Code of Practice on Discipline and Grievances (to which tribunals can refer in employment tribunal cases) accompany the removal of the (only recently enacted) Statutory Dispute Resolution Procedures set out in Schedule 2 to the Employment Act 2002. The new Code is online here.

The statutory procedures were unpopular with employers because they were "inflexible" but when it comes to (for example) the threat that a worker may loses their job then I quite like a bit of inflexibilty.

To take just one small example of the way in which the new Code works against our interests, the previous Code - at paragraph 42 - said that before disciplining a union representative the case "should" be discussed with a senior representative or full time official. The new Code - at paragraph 29 - merely says that this advisable. Those of us who have the old (or stronger) language in collectively agreed disciplinary procedures (which are incorporated into the contracts of employment of our members) should hold on to what we have.

Another example of the weakening of employee protection in the new Code is that the recommendation that "so far as reasonably practicable" appeals should be heard by a manager more senior than the manager who imposed a disciplinary sanction - at paragraph 46 of the old Code has been lost from paragraph 26 of the new Code.

This is a clear example of flexibility being offered to employers to the detriment of workers' rights - and the timing, in the midst of a recession, could hardly be worse.

A modest example of an alternative and more worker-friendly type of "flexibility" is provided by the extension of the "right to request" flexible working to all parents of under 16s. I'll blog more on that later.

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