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Bargain Brief 1- Topical news for activists and staff

February 2001
bargaining brief
is a new publication from the Policy & Information Team. It aims to provide a concise and topical news service for activists and staff engaged in representing and bargaining on behalf of UNISON members in Scotland. Recognising that not all activists have the access or time to read detailed information we hope this summary format will be helpful. Further information on any of the news items below is available from the P&I Team and we welcome feedback on any aspect of this service.


disciplinary suspensions

It is common practice particularly in the NHS, Social Work and voluntary sectors to automatically suspend staff who are the subject of abuse allegations.

The Court of Appeal in Gogay v Hertfordshire CC 2000 IRLR 703 have fired a warning shot against this practice. The employee was a residential care worker for a child who made allegations of sexual abuse. She was suspended and despite the investigation finding no case to answer she suffered clinical depression and was unable to return to work.

The court awarded significant damages as the employer had been in breach of the implied term of trust and respect in the manner in which they suspended her. It did not follow that because an investigation is taking place that the employee must be suspended. Other options including transfer or leave should have been considered.

At a time when employers often adopt knee jerk reactions to abuse allegations, this decision is a timely reminder that staff have rights as well.

working time

One in five staff still work more than 48 hours per week and of those less than a fifth have been asked to sign an opt-out from the Working Time Regulations. These were the results from a CIPD survey which concluded that the WTR had little impact on reducing the working week.

The ECJ in SIMAP 2000 IRLR 845 have clarified the status of time spent on call. It only counts as 'working time' if required to be present at work - not merely contactable.


legal aid at tribunals

The Scottish Executive has introduced legal aid for 'advice by way of representation' (ABWOR) at Employment Tribunals with effect from January 2001. It will only be available in cases "too complex for the applicant to present it to a minimum standard of effectiveness in person". This is a severe test in addition to the usual income limits and the Scottish Executive anticipates there being about 300 successful applications each year.

tribunal settlements

A survey in Personnel Today suggests that nearly half of all firms are more likely to settle out of court since increased compensation was introduced.

The average compensation award for unfair dismissal claims last year was £2515. However, the real cost to an employer is in legal and management staff time. Legal costs for an unfair dismissal claim can range between £2500 and £5000 on top of staff time to prepare the case.

The government have published draft proposals to deter frivolous cases. Tribunals will have a new power to strike out cases although this is unlikely to be used often as it may be challenged under the Human Rights Act. An increase in the deposit payable from £150 to £500 together with the costs ceiling being raised from £500 to £10000 is seen as a more effective deterrent to pointless cases.


The ACAS alternative arbitration scheme has been laid before parliament. Aiming to reduce the number of cases going to Employment Tribunals it provides a less legalistic alternative. The scheme only applies to unfair dismissal cases and applicants will have to sign a waiver agreeing. ACAS estimates one in seven unfair dismissal cases could be heard under the new system (details at

Equal Opportunities

job sharing

Research for the Resource Connection shows that employees who job share have an output 30% higher than one full time employee. They also scored highly on problem solving and team work.

equal pay

The pay gap between men and women has narrowed slightly since 1997 from 20% to 18%. This means a mid-skilled woman with no children will earn £240,000 less than a man in her working life.

A new survey from the EOC suggests that few organisations have adopted processes that target the achievement of equal pay. Less than 20% have adopted the EOC code of practice on equal pay since its introduction in 1997. UNISON branches may wish to check if their employers have adopted the code and undertaken the essential equal pay audit. Particular attention should be paid to performance related pay schemes which some believe have slowed down the process of reducing the gender pay gap.

The governments latest solution is to speed up the tribunal system for hearing equal pay cases. In a consultation paper Towards Equal Pay for Women Tribunals will be able to call in assessors to reduce the number of experts needed. The proposals will also close a loophole which allows tribunals to dismiss a claim before it is properly investigated.

disabled workers

The Disability Rights Commission has launched a new campaign Actions Speak Louder Than Words which calls upon business to take practical steps to enable disabled people to participate fully in society. Details of the campaign and a training video can be viewed on the commission's web site (

Industrial relations

monitoring communications

The Lawful Business Practice Regulations came into force on 24 October 2000. With some safeguards these regulations give employers the right to intercept communications (e-mail, phone etc) without an employee's consent.

However, the Data Protection Commissioner has issued a draft Code of Practice which takes a stronger view of employees right to privacy. The regulations and employer monitoring could also be challenged under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act which provides for a reasonable expectation of privacy. The legal position will hopefully become clearer in the next few months when the DPC is expected to publish her final Code.

agency staff

One million people are employed as temporary staff in the UK. In many UNISON services, particularly Utilities this is a common route to a permanent post. 500,000 find a permanent job every year.

The DTI's draft Employment Agencies Act will allow employers not to pay recruitment fees when temps are appointed to permanent posts - provided there is a four week gap.

work life balance

The government has published its Work-Life Balance Survey 2000 which warns employers that they need to adopt work-life balance policies to cut staff turnover and absenteeism.

52% of employers surveyed claimed policies helped reduce absenteeism, 46% said productivity increased and 72% said it fostered good employee relations. (


Its official! Office gossip is good for organisations. Research by the Industrial Society suggests that employers should encourage sociability. Gossip is the cement that holds organisations together

Contacts list:
Dave Watson
@ the P&I Team
14 West Campbell St
Glasgow G26RX
Tel 0141-332 0006
Fax 0141-307 2572

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