Your Rights in Respect of Changes to Contract

Colleagues are expressing concerns when they find themselves being asked to sign revised contracts as part of restructuring, and the LA offers the following advice in this respect.

Firstly and most importantly members should be aware that these new forms of contract have not been agreed with UCU despite assertions to the contrary, and indeed our attempts to engage in meaningful negotiations in this respect can be described as challenging at best.

You should also recognise that even if it were true that this new form of contract met with UCU approval, you are under no obligation to accept that contract if in your view it leads to a diminishing of terms and conditions when compared to your existing contract.

For the avoidance of doubt, UCU’s role is to negotiate terms and conditions on behalf of staff.   In undertaking that role UCU would not however take a position on an individual situation; that is a matter for the individual to consider what they feel is the best course of action for them.   UCU is however keen to ensure that when making those choices a member has the necessary data to make an informed choice.

Caring employers will be aware of ACAS guidelines in this respect and will seek to adhere to the reasonable approach that the guidelines set out.   Whilst not legally enforceable, industrial tribunals will take a dim view of employers that elect to ignore the code.

You may like to read this helpful ACAS leaflet:

It sets out their advice to employers when contemplating variations to contracts of employment.

ACAS is keen to encourage employers to take a collaborative and supportive approach when considering making changes to contracts.   Where that is likely to involve more than 20 people they make it clear that a failure to engage with recognised unions will lead to a breach of employment law.

So what are the options open to an employer in broad terms?

Employers can take the following routes:

  • Individual negotiations over terms and conditions,
  • Collective negotiation (compulsory in law where 20 or more persons are affected),
  • Imposition

ACAS is clear that imposition of a new contract should be seen as the last resort which entails the employer terminating an individual’s existing employment and offering re-engagement on new terms.

In such circumstances, the employee’s rights to notice and/or payment in lieu would apply.   Note also that under the ACAS code the employer is compelled to offer a new contract.   Any suggestion or implication that the new contract offer is only available if accepted before dismissal is strictly and manifestly in breach of the ACAS guidelines.

ACAS suggests that it is best practice to issue a fact sheet that sets out line by line how the new contract compares with your existing one.   To date this is not the approach being taken at Bradford.

ACAS makes it clear that it is not appropriate to use dismissal to incentivise staff to sign a new contract.

The unilateral imposition of a new contract is a breach of your existing contract; ACAS suggests that an employer may be vulnerable to legal challenge in such circumstances.

From UCU’s perspective the move to a new form of contract without conclusion of formal consultation with the recognised campus unions is disappointing and suggestive of a wilful hardening of attitudes towards representation.

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