Flexible Operating Hours Pilots

24 Aug 2017

PCS were advised in February 2017 that HMCTS intended to launch a number of flexible operating hours’ pilots in Crown Courts, Magistrates’ Courts and the Civil and Family Courts commencing in May 2017 and lasting for approximately 6 months. Commencement of the pilots was put on hold pending the outcome of the general election. We understand that HMCTS are seeking to start pilots shortly.

Pilot locations have been identified in London (Blackfriars Crown Court, Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court and Brentford County Court) and the North East (Newcastle Crown Court, Sheffield Magistrates’ Court and Manchester Civil Justice Centre.

No consultation

PCS are extremely disappointed that despite repeated requests for consultation, HMCTS is not  consulting with us. HMCTS prefers to tell PCS what it is doing by way of “updates”, and in many cases either after the Judiciary have made an announcement or after HMCTS has issued a national communication or after local managers have been asked to speak to or provide information to our members. Requests for meetings are not granted and direct answers are not provided to direct questions asked. PCS believes this is a contemptible way to treat our members and to conduct industrial relations.

This is in marked contrast to the position experienced by our representatives in the CPS Group who have had constructive and genuine negotiations with their employer regarding their members participation in the pilots. It is also in marked contrast to the position experienced by solicitors and barristers in the relevant areas who have been invited to attend workshops and set out their concerns. Lord Fulford recently issued a statement in which he said “There has been considerable engagement with legal professionals and the judiciary regarding the approach to evaluation”

PCS has requested consultation over the terms of reference of the pilot, the staffing of the pilot and remuneration of volunteers, and the approach to evaluation. No consultation has taken place whatsoever.

No commitment to future consultation has been given. HMCTS has stated in its resourcing guidance to managers that its future intention to “engage” with PCS will be through “updates”.

Broken Assurances

We had been given an assurance in February that flexible operating hours would not be introduced at other locations. That assurance has not been kept. Local so-called judicially led initiatives in other locations are being positively supported by HMCTS.

PCS View of Pilots

PCS do not support the piloting of flexible operating hours. The fact that HMCTS has not consulted with us means that nothing has been done to allay the very real fears and concerns we have.

  • HMCTS have not presented any evidence to PCS that the flexible operating hours proposed are required. PCS believes that is because no such evidence exists.
  • PCS believe that these pilots are being introduced with a view to the further centralisation of work, and job loss and to facilitate the closure of a significant number of additional courts. We further believe the pilot’s evaluation may result in proposals for more permanent and mandatory changes in the future and maintain the failure of HMCTS to consult with PCS is demonstrative of HMCTS’s intention.
  • The pilots will increase the length of the working day. It remains unclear to PCS as to the hours that staff will actually be asked to work.Independent research demonstrates that working too long or too hard can have a negative impact on your health, your work life balance and lead to extremely high levels of stress. PCS maintains that these pilots run contrary to HMCTS’s stated aim of promoting staff well being. PCS are further concerned that staff who develop conditions or make errors due to overwork face the prospect of sanctions under the Attendance Management or Poor Performance procedures.
  • Case law states that courts should not commence hearing trials late in the working day which will result in the hearing being concluded after the normal working day. There is a clear and increased risk of mistakes being made when magistrates and their advisers are tired. We maintain that such principles are equally applicable in relation to jury trial. Indeed the risks may be more acute in relation to jurors who are not used to sitting judicially.
  • PCS dispute that they pilots will lead to the predicted increase in utilisation and believe the mechanism through which utilisation is measured is fundamentally flawed. High usage can only be achieved by listing several lengthy contested matters in the same court on the basis they will not all be effective Listing is not a scientific process. Sometimes this works out; at other times all the hearings are effective and one or more have to be delayed to another date causing parties and witnesses’ distress and inconvenience.
  • PCS are concerned that these pilots will be run at a time when HMCTS are rolling out digital mark up to pilot sites and the impact that it is likely to have not only on our members but on the time it takes to hear cases.

PCS Advice to Members

PCS advise members not to volunteer to take part in these pilots under any circumstances. We accept that for many the prospect of overtime will be an attractive one. However not only are there negative health impacts of working long or longer hours, volunteering for pilots assists HMCTS to drive through an agenda of change and undermines the ability of PCS to protect the current terms and conditions of members and to seek fairness for all in relation to new terms and conditions.

PCS are gravely concerned that if members volunteer in circumstances where they are aware that everyone has been consulted with except staff through their recognised trade union, it tells the employer that such behaviour is acceptable and may lead the employer to believe that they can behave accordingly in relation to all other areas of “reform.”

Pilots cannot be successful unless there are volunteers.

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