Flexible Operating Hours pilot scheme

16 Nov 2018

HMCTS has decided to proceed with a much-reduced pilot in relation to civil and family work only at Brentford County Court and Manchester Civil Justice Centre. It is anticipated that pilots will begin in Spring 2019 and will last for approximately six months. 

Pilot Detail

HMCTS intend to run an additional half day session at Brentford hearing civil work only either after or before the current day on some but not all days. Sessions would run from 0800-1030, 1045-1345 and 1445-1645 or 1000-1300, 1400-1600 and 1630-1900.

In Manchester an additional 1630-1900 session hearing civil and family work (dependent on Judge ticketing) would be listed initially on Mondays but with an intention to expand to an additional day. HMCTS advise us that there would be a handover and change of judge before or after the “new” session. It is unclear what handover means and what this would practically mean for our members.

Information not Consultation

Whilst PCS was invited to a number of meetings last year and sent a number of documents we do not believe that this constitutes consultation.  PCS has received information and in many circumstances unclear information. To inform is not to consult. HMCTS has specifically not consulted on how these pilots will be resourced and how our members will be remunerated. Its prospectus was silent on staffing issues. Information provided about the announcements today has been far from timely. Some has been provided with no time for PCS to consider.

HMCTS has informed PCS what it is doing by way of updates and in many cases after the Judiciary have made an announcement or after HMCTS has issued national communications. HMCTS had previously stated in its resourcing guidance to managers that its intention is to “engage” with PCS through updates.

Given the failure to consult effectively PCS cannot support the piloting of flexible operating hours. The fact that the pilots are smaller in scope than initially proposed does not allay the very real fears and concerns we have.

PCS Concerns

PCS remains unclear as to how the pilots will be staffed and those staff remunerated. HMCTS advises that they will “run within current working hours and terms and conditions of all involved.”  Staff members are not contracted to work these hours. We are unaware just to give some examples as to:

  • How will these pilots be staffed – HMCTS state that they are “not asking any individual person to work, for more hours in a day”. How will they be resourced?
  • What are the staffing levels required at each grade?
  • What are the additional staffing costs referred to? Is this overtime or the recruitment of additional staff? Certainly the issue of reward is not a matter for Local Implementation Teams. It is a matter for negotiation with the PCS.
  • Are shifts are proposed? The hours fall outside current flexi schemes
  • How will the impact of pilots on our members will be evaluated? Will those who have chosen not to take part be included?  PCS is conspicuous by their absence in the long list of those who will be part of the Evaluation Advisory Group.
  • The “catchment” area for volunteers. Will participation be offered only at the sites in question or in a wider geographical location?
  • What will happen should for example sickness absence mean a volunteer required for an early or a late session not be able to attend?
  • Will the extended hours stop whilst the evaluation takes place?

HMCTS has not presented any evidence to us that flexible operating hours are required. PCS believes there is little or no evidence to support the need.  PCS believes the pilots are being introduced with a view to facilitate further centralisation of work, closures of courts and job losses. We further believe that the pilot evaluation will be used to justify proposals for more permanent and mandatory changes in the future. We maintain that that the lack of effective consultation with PCS before the announcement of the pilots and our absence from the Evaluation Advisory Group is indicative of HMCTS’ intention.

PCS disputes that these pilots will lead to the predicted increase in utilisation and maintain our longstanding position that the current HMCTS utilisation measurement is fundamentally flawed.

The pilots will increase the length of the working day. It remains unclear what hours staff will be asked to work. Independent research shows that working too long can have a negative impact on your health, work life balance and lead to extremely high levels of stress. PCS maintains that running these pilots runs contrary to HMCTS’s stated aim of promoting staff well-being. PCS has further concerns that those who develop conditions or make errors due to overwork face the prospect of sanctions under the Attendance Management Procedure or Poor Performance Policy.

PCS is sceptical regarding assurances given that no decisions have been made about the use of flexible operating hours in courts and tribunals in the future and that they will be independently evaluated. HMCTS have stated “the effect of flexible operating hours on court users’ personal lives and work/life balance is an area that will be monitored by the independent evaluator as part of the pilot” and that they “actively seek feedback from legal professionals and other court users”. The fact that staff are not referred to in either statement speaks volumes.

HMCTS has made it clear that they want to operate Courts and Tribunals Service Centres from 0800-2000 despite the lack of evidence to support any demand for extended hours. We do not believe the hours of the proposed pilots are a coincidence. Furthermore, local changes to sitting patterns that have increased the length of the working day for our members not only been positively supported by HMCTS but hidden behind as “judicial decisions” as an excuse not to consult.

PCS has been advised that a visit to the sites by us will be accommodated. The employer is aware that we would like paid time off for members to attend a members’ meeting at the two sites so that we can consult members.

PCS advice to members

PCS advises members not to volunteer or to express an interest in taking part in these pilots. We accept that for many the prospect potentially of overtime or time off in lieu if that is offered may appear attractive, 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.

In the summer PCS members overwhelmingly rejected proposals to increase the length of the working week and gave us an unequivocal mandate to protect members’ terms and conditions.


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