On 14 February HMRC unilaterally published its new policy on Attendance Management. This was without the agreement of PCS; indeed the trade unions were only given sight of the revised policy on 26 January 2011 and told that publication would take place on 14 February 2011 irrespective of our representations.
At its meeting on 24 February, the group executive committee (GEC) voted unanimously to formally disagree the newly published policy on behalf of PCS members and to move to a ballot of members on industrial action. Further information about the timing of the ballot, the ballot questions and the action we will be asking members to take if we cannot reach a negotiated settlement with HMRC will follow in the coming days.
This briefing outlines the key concerns that your union has about the implementation of this policy, and gives initial guidance to members who are either being asked to implement the policy as a manager or are being subject to the new policy as a member of staff. Whilst this briefing is specific to Attendance Management it is important to recognise that changes to the Discipline Procedure have also been published by HMRC, again unilaterally and without PCS agreement. Negotiations continue on this policy and a separate, detailed briefing on the changes to the discipline process will be issued shortly.
HMRC has failed to produce any formal plans to address the well being of its staff. Instead it has chosen to concentrate its efforts on punitive steps dealing with the deterrent measures rather than the causes of sickness. The view of your GEC is that the revised attendance policy has the potential to be used as a blunt instrument which will result in more members being dismissed more quickly for poor attendance due to illness. The new policy reduces by 50% the consideration points for management action in the event of sick absence, from 10 days to 5 days and from 5 occasions to 3 occasions in any 12 month period. In addition, time taken to attend routine medical or dental appointments (excluding disability adjustment leave and pregnancy related appointments) will have to be taken in members’ own time and will not be reimbursed.
In making our representations we have made it clear to HMRC that the new policy is totally unacceptable and that we consider this to be a major change in terms and conditions. PCS consider that the department’s newly published policy is potentially discriminatory, particularly against members with impairments, those who work part time and women. In addition we fear that a strict application of the new policy may lead to members not addressing their health and well-being at an early stage. PCS is in discussion with its solicitors to formally assess the legal implications of these changes.
PCS ADVICE TO MEMBERS
Once we have successfully concluded a statutory ballot for industrial action we will be asking all members not to comply with the new policy as part of the action we will need to take. PCS has registered its formal disagreement of the policy on behalf of members, in the meantime, and we are advising branch representatives on the best way of assisting individuals who are immediately affected by the attendance management policy changes. A separate, detailed briefing is being issued to PCS reps and this includes advice on the steps that individuals should take who are subject to management action under the new policy. It is therefore important that if you are impacted by the changes, either as a manager or as one who is being managed under the department’s policy, that you contact your local representative.
We recognise that front line managers will be under particular pressure, in some areas, to rigidly apply the new procedures; our fear is that the new consideration points will be used to justify a mechanistic approach to managing attendance, and considerable influence will be brought to bear on junior managers to pressurise and potentially punish their staff. All managers are strongly reminded that the new ‘consideration points’ are just that – merely a point at which a manager can use his or her discretion to identify whether action is appropriate and if so what. The consideration points are only a guide, and the individual circumstances of the case will determine whether further action is taken or not.
Managers will also receive on-line alerts at the new consideration points in line with the new guidance. However, PCS members who are managers will note that receiving an on-line alert is not equivalent to being advised that informal or formal action is necessary or inevitable. When an alert is received this is only an electronic reminder to the manager that an individual’s sick absence has reached a point where the manager needs to consider if any action is appropriate, or not, and to make a record of the decision and the reasoning behind this.
In addition, the department’s advice to managers under the terms of its new policy is to be supportive and to consider a number of issues including any request to be accompanied during return to work (RTW) interviews about your concerns. All members, in all grades and capacities, should consider these issues before and during any RTW interview. We would recommend in any event that members seek early advice from a PCS representative.
The attendance management policy is one of a number of policies which HMRC has recently unilaterally published. HMRC cannot be allowed to undermine either industrial relations or your terms and conditions by merely publishing guidance and then seeking to apply it. We will be balloting all members for industrial action in the coming weeks in order that we can further persuade the department to reach an agreed position which is acceptable to both PCS and HMRC. Further briefings on this will be issued shortly. In the meantime, PCS has formally registered its disagreement to the new policy on behalf of PCS members. Where members are immediately impacted by the new policy then further advice should be sought in the first instance from your PCS representative.
Please can you take the time to share the content of this briefing with anyone that you may know that is not in the union, and encourage them to join PCS. Only by being a member of PCS will staff be able to have an influence on this and all other policies.
DAVE BEAN, GROUP PRESIDENT | PETER LOCKHART, GROUP SECRETARY