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Flexible Working in the NHS in Scotland Ancillary/Hotel Services Staff.




Guidance note on Flexible Working in the NHS in Scotland among Ancillary/Hotel Services Staff.

UNISON Scotland Ancillary Sector Committee

November 2002


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 it anyway.

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:

  • Recognising that everyone is different.

  • Staff training and development.

  • Higher rate of pay for members.

  • Flexibility is a two way street.

  • Job security.

  • Cleaner hospitals/facilities.

  • No enforced change.

  • Clearly defined roles.

  • Consultation.

  • Maintaining and improving Health and Safety.

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.

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.


  • Staff training and development

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.

  • Higher rates of pay for members.

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.

  • Flexibility is a two way street.

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.

  • Job security.

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.

  • Cleaner Hospitals/Facilities

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.

  • No enforced changed.

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 process.

  • Clearly defined roles.

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'.

  • Consultation.

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.


  • Health and Safety.

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 Macfarlane

Chair Working Group Chair Lead Officer


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 this paper.

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 were:

  • 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 their experiences.

Further Information

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 branches below about their experiences.

  • Lanarkshire Acute
  • Glasgow Health (primary care & community etc)
  • Yorkill, Glasgow
  • Lothian Primary Care
  • Borders Acute
  • Tayside Primary Care
  • Dumfries & Galloway Acute