Whether as a result of mergers or adapting to new and changing demands in the further education sector, restructures cause great concern to staff. Consequently, NEU reps are vitally important to union membership at such times.
All colleges should have an agreed procedure to handle restructuring. If there is no such procedure at your college, you are advised to consult with other union colleagues with a view to negotiating one. This should be done before any restructuring is announced. Further details are available on the link below.
Consultation with staff is an important part of any restructuring process. It must be thorough, begin early and be undertaken in good faith. If redundancies are a possibility, certain legal duties on consultation will also apply.
The purpose of a consultation should be to explain and, where necessary, improve the proposed new structure, mitigating any negative effects wherever possible. The restructuring proposal document will usually form the basis of any consultations. Sufficient time must be allowed, and the consultation process should be completed, before the new structure is published and the actual restructuring process starts.
Who should be consulted?
Consultation should always take place with trade union reps and with individuals (including non-unionised staff). Most colleges will expect individuals to be represented in this process.
All affected staff should be provided with full details of the proposals and be given clear information about the process of consultation, including timescales, and how comments and responses can be made.
There area number of key questions that need addressing in any restructure.
The college should draw up a proposal document, clearly setting out the reasons for restructuring, the proposed new structure itself and the expected impact. This should be explained in detail to union reps and form the basis of consultations with a series of follow-up meetings.
If NEU reps are not satisfied with the level of information provided, or if you believe answers to be evasive or unjustified, you should press the college until a satisfactory response is given.
Will anyone be made redundant?
It is important to find out whether anyone could be made redundant in the restructuring process. Redundancies usually occur because of the closure of a college or department. Restructures can also lead to redundancies because the need for work of a particular kind has ceased or diminished (or is expected to do so), or where fewer employees are needed (or are expected to be needed) to do the same work.
Too many colleges try to move to a new structure in the shortest time possible. While some members may wish to get the process over and done with quickly, NEU reps need to adopt a more measured approach. This should be explained to members.
The main problems with rushing a restructure are that:
- posts are removed without providing sufficient notice in accordance with an individual’s contract.
- consultation is cut short, making it less meaningful; or new appointments are made before consultations are complete.
- individuals are given insufficient time to make decisions affecting their own future, and are not properly consulted on an individual basis.
All of the above are potentially serious and could result in legal claims.
Once the consultation begins, NEU reps should arrange a meeting for all members to discuss the proposals. Such a meeting gives members the opportunity to put across their views, which will shape the NEU’s position on the restructure and its response to it.
Some members may not feel comfortable expressing their views in a public meeting, and should be given an opportunity to speak to the rep privately if they wish.
Selection criteria and processes
In any restructure, the college will need to ensure that it has a proper balance of skills and experience in order to take the organisation forward. The usual selection methods are direct assimilation of individuals into appropriate posts or competitive interview. There may also be some ring-fencing of specialist positions. A more recent trend is the use of aptitude tests.
Whatever process is used, it must be fair, which means setting objective criteria that are easily measured.
When making the selection, a points system is often used in which the candidates are given scores against each of the stated criteria. This can assist in ensuring clarity and objectivity, and is recommended by the NEU as a mechanism for selection.
The union does not recommend the inclusion of attendance and disciplinary records in selection criteria. Using absence records may discriminate against those who have been absent for very specific reasons, e.g. female staff absent for maternity reasons or those absent because of disabilities.
All new posts should be filled in a fair and open manner. Job specifications and descriptions should be discussed during the consultation process, together with appropriate grading. NEU reps should press the college to produce guidelines on how selection criteria are to be measured and applied.
Enough time should also be allowed for members to consider all the available posts, and weigh them up against the alternative of possible redundancy. If some posts are to be re-graded at a lower level, it is important that a reasonable period of salary protection is negotiated.
Where there is concern that posts are being engineered to exclude particular individuals from applying, this should be challenged. Any evidence of a person’s unreasonable selection for redundancy could support a claim of unfair dismissal.
Good equal opportunities practice should be followed and appointments to new posts made in accordance with established college recruitment procedures.
Any testing methods used in the process must be appropriate and in line with normal college practice. NEU reps should be wary of the sudden introduction of a new method unless it can clearly be justified.
The selection process should have an appeals system to allow any question of unfairness to be challenged.
Job offers and suitable alternative employment
Job offers following a new structure will generally be of two types. Either someone is successful in obtaining a position for which they applied, or someone is offered a vacant post that may be at a lower grade and therefore on a lower salary.
If that happens NEU reps should seek to mitigate the drop in pay by attempting to negotiate a period of salary protection. Members considering the option of a lower paid post should be advised to find out how this might affect their pension. The Teachers’ Pension Scheme website has useful information on such stepping down procedures.
In a formal redundancy situation, the college must seek to offer individuals facing dismissal any suitable alternative employment that is available. This must be a genuinely suitable job.