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The strike is off!

The strike is off!

Many commuters breathed a huge sigh of relief on Monday when unions called off two 24-hour tube strikes planned for this week. However, an overall resolution to the dispute has not yet been reached, and the unions have put forward new strike dates of 8 and 10 September if a deal is not done by then. But how do you roll out an unfavourable change to employment terms in a non-unionised workforce?

Although it is unusual for employers to introduce such a radical change in terms as is being fought over with tube workers (introducing night shifts), it is far more common for employers to want to make less extreme but “detrimental” changes – for example, in terms of working hours, by switching staff from say, a 9-5 working day to an 8.30-5.30 day.

So how should you go about rolling out such a change?

As a starting point, check what the affected employees’ employment contracts say. It may be that there is specific provision for making the type of change you want to by just telling them that the change is happening.

Next, make sure that the key decision-makers at the employer are all agreed on how much risk you want to take here, as the main options for making changes have varying levels of risk:

  1. Seek employees’ express agreement to the change

    This has the advantage of giving certainty as to who is willing to accept the change, but it may be difficult to get sufficient uptake unless you offer some sort of incentive in return (for example a pay rise). It may also then leave you with the question of what to do with any employees who say no. 

  2. Try to impose the change unilaterally, without employees’ agreement

    When trying to impose a detrimental change in this way, this can be risky, as some employees may raise grievances, some employees may work under protest, or some may even walk out and claim constructive dismissal. These risks may be reduced by giving employees fair notice of the changes and explaining why the business needs/wants to make the change.
  3. Terminate existing contracts of employment and offer reengagement on the new terms

    This is often seen as the most extreme option; if a sufficient number of people will be affected, it will require collective consultation, and from an employee relations’ perspective, may be most likely to result in claims.

Like  many employee relations matters, when planning such a change, consider how you can present the change and communicate it to your staff. Often employees are more likely to be receptive to change if they feel like there are good reasons for it, and that they have been given the option to input into the change process.