Guidance note on Flexible Working in the NHS in Scotland
among Ancillary/Hotel Services Staff.
UNISON Scotland Ancillary Sector Committee
Flexible working, or generic working as it is
sometimes called, is not new to the NHS. In a number of areas
posts such has Housekeepers have been in place for many years.
The purpose of this paper is to give UNISON Branches guidance
as to some of the issues involved in creating such posts. If you
already have flexible working posts in operation in your Branch
then maybe it is time to see if a better deal can be struck.
From this point on we will use the word flexible
rather than generic, as generic is seen as a loaded term, whereas
flexible is more realistic and positive.
UNISON recognises and promotes the fact that
virtually all our members are highly flexible and responsive to
service needs and that in the NHS staff have had to cope with
constant change. This paper is focussing specifically on flexible
working as it relates to staff taking on extended roles or working
in more than one specialism.
A typical example of when flexible working will
arise is when management propose to introduce a Housekeeping Service
in a ward, with the idea being one person does a number of tasks
that have previously been done by more than one person. This does
not automatically mean an increase in workloads as extra resources
may be put in, but it usually does. It is these types of situations
we aim to give some guidance on.
It is strongly recommended if your Branch is
facing proposals on flexible working that you also read the useful
UNISON publication Generic Working in the NHS, a UNISON negotiating
guide for branches this is available from the Communications
Department, Stock Number 1409. You should also discuss it with
your Regional Officer at an early stage and you may want to contact
some of the Branches listed in the appendix.
The first response?
The issue of flexible working has been a contentious
one for the Ancillary Sector Committee, with members broadly falling
into one of two camps. Those who see it as further exploitation
of an already abused group by getting them to do more and more.
Whilst others see it as inevitable and an opportunity to get better
pay and some career structure for members.
It will be for your members and your Branch to decide
into what camp you fall. However it may be that whilst in principle
you are opposed to flexible working you have to get involved in
negotiations on the subject if management are going to impose
This paper is therefor to give some guidance on
what to do once you get into such negotiations.
In discussing flexible working the Committee thought
it was important to establish a set of principles which Branches
should seek early commitment form employers on; these are:
Taking each of these in turn we will explain some
of the points that will need to be discussed under these headings.
Recognising that everyone is different and that
the needs of the individual have to be considered before any change
is made is vital. Individual ability needs to be recognised; not
everyone will find change easy. This could create problems as
some staff may object to being withdrawn from their traditional
roles; this may lead to areas of conflict.
Flexible roles often cost more to introduce and
therefor are often not rolled out across a whole Trust or site
at once. This should allow for those who wish to remain in their
traditional role to do so. As with any change UNISON must protect
those members who can not make the change. The ideal of course
is to get an agreement that makes the change appealing to as many
staff as possible.
There will have to be a planned approach to staff
training and development within the organisation. There must be
a joint understanding of the skills and knowledge needed to undertake
any task. Training should be consistent across the organisation
and not left to the individual manager's decision. To meet the
need of the individual, the training needs to be full and comprehensive.
The emphasis has to be on high quality professional qualifications,
with staff being given the opportunity to access this. Training
and development should give staff the prospect of accessing promotional
posts within their own and other departments, e.g. catering assistant
to chef, and not just sideways movement.
Plans are at an advanced stage to introduce new
Occupational Standards and SVQs for support services. It will
be important all staff get the opportunity to obtain these. Staff
who have been out of education for some time must be offered the
opportunity to undertake a UNISON Return to Learn course. More
information on Return to Learn can be obtained from Barbara Diamond
on (0870) 7777 006.
It is vital that the employer prioritises training
for ancillary staff, all to often they get left with the scraps
once others have been dealt with.
We should be looking to negotiate higher rates of
pay and conditions for our members if they take on a flexible
role. Any proposals that do not involve increased pay should be
vigorously resisted. All those doing similar flexible work need
to be paid the same rate of pay. It should be recognised that
there will be an increase level of skill and competence needed
to the job.
At the time of writing we are in many areas campaigning
to address historic low pay. Enhanced pay for flexible working
needs to be above the new base rates we are agreeing for traditional
posts such as Domestics. It is impossible to advise on the extent
of the differential that should be sought, as this will depend
on the extent of the difference between the traditional role and
the new flexible role. It needs to be of genuine benefit to members
and make the role attractive.
Our ancillary members are often stigmatised and
stuck in the posts they are in. It is unusual for ancillary workers
to move up through the ranks of Trusts. In getting UNISON Branches
to agree to flexible working, Trusts must genuinely recognise
the contribution and value of their staff and agree to monitor
levels of progression through the organisations compared to say
nursing assistant or Grade 2 or 3 Admin and Clerical workers.
Flexible working should only be agreed to if it
is genuinely about improving patient service and developing staff.
If it is motivated on a cost cutting agenda to reduce the number
of posts this must be resisted. The state of many of our hospitals
in terms of cleanliness demonstrate the problem is too few staff
not too many. There are also staffing shortages in other areas.
The relation between flexible posts and other staff
need to be fully considered, e.g. ward sister and housekeeper
and how that impacts on Domestic Supervisors. Domestic Supervisors
will have the most in-depth knowledge about cleaning needs and
practices and this expertise should not be lost.
There will be problems if a system of flexible working
is introduced that operates on taking domestics away from their
cleaning duties. For example, if domestics are being used as porters
in the area of patient movement, this reduces the time spent cleaning
the wards and departments. At this time when there is an increase
in hospital-acquired infection the domestic's roll is of the up
most importance and this should be reiterated to managers.
It is strongly the belief of the Ancillary Sector
Committee that whilst there may be valid reasons for introducing
flexible type posts in a variety of settings there will always
be a need for a dedicated cleaning service. This is tough and
demanding role and should not be underrated in anyway. If there
is no underpinning cleaning service then our experience is that
flexible roles can't deliver the same degree of cleanliness and
gaps inevitable. Again the motivation must be improved service
and in this case, cleaner hospitals/facilities.
To make enforced changed on an individual will be
unproductive to the organisation. Staff moral will suffer which
will bring its own problems; there will also be problems with
recruitment and retention.
UNISON Branches need to agree a change management
All change initiatives need to have clear objectives
and staff working within the organisation need clearly defined
roles. This will reduce anxiety within the working environment
with staff being made aware of their duties. Having clearly defined
roles will be essential in assessing the training needs of the
individual. This will also reduce the risk of an unscrupulous
manager asking staff to undertake tasks they do not have the skills
and competencies to undertake. Flexible working must not become
about creating a 'dog's body'.
The employer has a duty to consult with staff and
their representatives on any change in the work place. The staff
representatives need to be made fully aware of the employer's
intentions in order to make a meaningful contribution to any negotiations.
The consultation process must take place at the initial stages
of any change and sufficient time is needed for UNISON Branches
to consult their members and then influence the process.
The introduction of flexible working should not
compromise the health and safety of the workforce. There should
be a shared understanding that the organisation will provide information,
training, instruction and supervision together with safe systems
of work, safe places of work and proper care and maintenance of
all plant and equipment. One key element of an effective health
and safety policy is the recognition that accidents, ill health
and incidents result from failing in management control.
There are big changes on the way in the NHS in many
areas. One aspect of change is the cascade of work from consultants
to doctors, doctors to nurses, nurses to nursing assistants and
so on. UNISON is not opposed to staff taking on expanded roles
if it is through agreement, underpinned by sufficient and appropriate
training and delivers significant improvements in pay.
It is hoped this brief guide gives Branches some
information on how to negotiate the introduction of flexible posts
amongst our ancillary members.
Jim Clark Lillian Macer Simon
Chair Working Group Chair Lead
In order to compile this report the Ancillary Sector
Committee set up a working group to prepare the paper. Lillian
Macer kindly agreed to lead the group and produced the basis for
The first step the group took was to survey UNISON
Branches on the extent to which flexible working already existed.
Thanks to all 12 Branches who responded.
The Branches who had experience of flexible working
- Lanarkshire Acute
- Glasgow Health (primary care & community etc)
- Yorkill, Glasgow
- Lothian Primary Care
- Borders Acute
- Tayside Primary Care
- Dumfries & Galloway Acute
Of these 7 Branches the only positive views came
form Dumfries and Galloway who had seen it as a means to keep
contracts in house and the Lothian Primary Care Branch who had
negotiated an enhanced rate of pay. However in the Lothian Branch's
view the increased pay had been divisive.
In the majority of cases UNISON Branches had not
reached an agreement on the introduction of flexible working which
is clearly worrying. It is also clear from this limited response
that where UNISON is involved it improves the outcome.
If you want a copy of the full survey results please
contact Simon Macfarlane (0870) 7777 006.
It is recommended that if you are negotiating on
flexible working you speak to some of the above branches about