How to deal with cuts

A Social Work Union Guide

I am a frontline local authority social worker. Senior managers have started to talk about how the cuts could lead to restructuring and potentially redundancies. I don’t know if I will be affected yet but what are my rights?

The A&R Service is increasingly receiving calls from members on issues relating to cuts. Most calls are concerned with whether employers are following the correct procedures. In terms of restructuring, this can be a precursor to redundancy, but by no means always. Almost anything can come out of restructuring: changing the name of a team, changing roles, making jobs less office bound, but it usually results in more work for frontline staff. If terms and conditions are being changed, employers should negotiate with unions and all proposals should be discussed with employees.

Sometimes employers restructure to work out what roles are needed and which posts can be made redundant. However, there are some clear redundancy guidelines that employers must follow – available on the Acas and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills websites. All good employers, whatever the size of the organisation, should consult with their employees. When an employer proposes to make 20 or more employees redundant at one organisation over a period of 90 days or less, it has a statutory duty to consult representatives of any recognised independent trade union, or if no trade union is recognised, other elected employees. Employers should also consult individual employees. Consultations should take place 30 days before the first dismissal if there are between 29 and 99 employees affected and 90 days before the first dismissal if more than 100 employees are affected.

The employer should consult affected employees over the criteria used to select employees for redundancy and the selection criteria should be objective, precisely defined and capable of being applied in an independent way, to ensure that the process is conducted fairly. The chosen criteria should be consistently applied by all employers, irrespective of size. Employers may look at attendance, disciplinary records, skills and experience, aptitude and standard of work in the selection criteria.

There are certain grounds by which an employer cannot make an employee redundant; for example, if the employee is on parental leave, works part-time, for asserting a statutory employment right, for whistle-blowing or other circumstances outlined on the Acas website. Employees found to have been dismissed for any of these, or other discriminatory reasons, will be found to have been dismissed unfairly. Staff can appeal if they feel they have been unfairly selected.

A voluntary redundancy scheme may be offered, but it could be that volunteers have skills that employers do not wish to lose, in which case compulsory redundancies will be favoured. Employers should consider whether staff affected by redundancies can be offered suitable alternative work elsewhere within the organisation. The sticking point is often around what is ‘suitable’ or ‘reasonable’ alternative work as it may be a role on lower pay or status.

It is up to the employee to decide whether they would prefer to have the safety of another job, even if it is lower paid or of a lower status, or if they would rather take the redundancy package. Often it will come down to how long the employees have been at the organisation and the size of their redundancy package. However, if suitable alternative employment is found and the employee refuses the offer, they may lose their entitlement to redundancy pay. Employees who do accept alternative employment should have a trial period to see if the new job is suitable without losing the right to the redundancy payment.

If you have been selected for redundancy, you have a statutory entitlement to take time off to look for new work or go on a training course if you have been continuously employed for more than two years, although it is good practice for employers to extend this to all employees. Employers should also provide you with a notice period and give you as much information as possible about a range of subjects, including redundancy pay, pension payments, state benefits, advice on completing application forms and attending interviews.

The government has pledged to protect frontline posts but it is difficult to know if this is a policy or an aspiration as we have had people who appear to be frontline social workers who have been told they are to be made redundant.

Your rights will be outlined on the Acas and BIS websites but you can contact the A&R Service for additional assistance.

Published : 2nd January 2012*

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* Although BASW has prepared the information contained within Social Work Knowledge with all due care and updates the information regularly, BASW does not warrant or represent that the information is free from errors or omission. Whilst the information is considered to be true and correct at the date of publication, changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact on the accuracy of the information. The information may change without notice and BASW is not in any way liable for the accuracy of any information printed and stored or in any way interpreted and used by a user.