Unions scoff at consultation on flexible working scheme at West Lothian Council

A pilot project to trial a flexible working scheme for West Lothian Council staff has been criticised by union leaders who said it was being imposed on staff without consultation.

By Kevin Quinn
Tuesday, 7th December 2021, 6:00 am
West Lothian Council logo
West Lothian Council logo

The pilot scheme reintroduces a flexible work scheme that existed pre-pandemic and extends a start time to 7am. It also introduces a new system of allowing staff to clock in and out multiple times to allow time for those who have caring duties.

Presenting the proposals, head of corporate services Julie Whitelaw said the pilot scheme would have key benefits for the business and staff. “The pilot will enable the council to offer employees greater flexibility whilst meeting the needs of customers in future,” she added.

But Jane Ridgway from Unison told a council meeting the proposals lacked ambition and were still heavily weighted towards “presenteeism”.

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And she described a time line dating back to May when repeated attempts by the joint trade unions to have input into the policy formation were ignored.

“Council officers have reneged on promises that they would work with trade unions to produce this,” she said.

“We were informed, not consulted.”

She said it was a “lost opportunity to improve working life for staff” and potentially “significantly damaging to industrial relations”.

Prior to the pandemic, the majority of council employees spent all or most of their working day either fixed at one location or as mobile workers where they travelled within specific areas, with a minimum period of time spent at their work base.

The pandemic has changed the way the council has delivered services over the last 20 months and during this period a large number of employees have been required to work from home, approximately 25 per cent of the non-teaching staff workforce.

The council is the largest employer in West Lothian, with over 8,000 employees.

The Flexible Working Pilot will be introduced in April, subject to developments in the pandemic, and any return of employees to the workplace will be required to be co-ordinated on a phased basis in order to ensure an orderly and structured return.

The pilot will apply to all employees in posts categorised as suitable for home working or hybrid working and staff will be provided with a full update later this month.

Speaking after the meeting, the council’s depute chief executive, Graeme Struthers said: “Given the huge number of services that the council delivers, many staff continue to operate normally, with some restrictions in place in line with national guidance.

"However, for the past 20 months, many others continue to work from home, similar to many other organisations, particularly office based staff. This has been necessary but it has demonstrated opportunities offered by new ways of working that can benefit both employees and the council.”

The period of the pilot will also be used to develop an overarching HR policy at a later date.

He added: “We believe that it is a sensible approach to move forward our flexible working arrangements.

“Delivering these measures initially as a pilot will enable the council, services and teams to assess the suitability of workstyle categories and explore the way in which new working arrangements can be used to best meet the needs of our customers while providing maximum flexibility to our employees.”

Mr Struthers defended the council’s engagement with the unions: “There are weekly meetings between the trade unions and council officers on a range of matters and full engagement with trade unions has taken place throughout the development of this pilot.

“Input from the trade unions has helped shape the pilot to-date and officers will continue to work with the trade unions as the pilot progresses.”