I worked for a large educational establishment, and government cuts and other factors (a fall in the number of young people for example) had seen redundancies made in 5 of the 6 years I was there. Every Summer was a fretful time, wondering if I had a job to go back to in September.
Inevitably, the worst happened, and I was put on ‘the list’ of people at risk of redundancy. For legal reasons, I can’t go into too much detail, but I will share my experience in the hope it will give you an idea of what to expect.
The employer issued a section 188 notice in March announcing over 100 redundancies. That meant we had 45 days of consultation before the first dismissals. The employer told the unions that they wanted all of the redundancies to have taken place by the end of July, so there was some leeway in terms of trying to find alternatives. Initially, the employer asked for volunteers, and about half of the quota was reached through this method. Many staff had become fed up with the constant threat to their livelihoods and decided to ‘take the money and run’. I decided to stick it out and try to either remain employed in some capacity or use my trade union reps to negotiate the best possible outcome for me and my family. I was a trade union activist, so I was confident that I could achieve one of those.
The first thing the employer had to do was select people for redundancy. The way that selections were made was as follows. The employer had to save a significant amount of money (I can’t say how much for legal reasons). They looked at the number of students they needed per staff member to make the organisation viable, then set the number of staff required in each area. Any area that had too many staff would form a ‘redundancy pool’, in which all staff in that pool were ‘at risk’ of redundancy. My area was one of those. The goal was to reduce the number of staff in each pool until they had achieved the savings, and those left were no longer at risk. The employer asked for volunteers for redundancy across all areas and then would start the process of selection if they hadn’t achieved the savings they needed. People would be selected based on their ‘score’ on a number of criteria including: length of service (first in, last out); qualifications; sick record; disciplinary record; CPD (continuing professional development), and student achievement. Those with the lowest score would be made redundant.
My first lesson to those facing this situation is that although it feels like the bottom has dropped out of your world, the consultation process is (or should be) designed to ensure that the amount of pain you suffer is minimised, So use it to its fullest extent. Join your union. Insist on being given the full picture. Explore all possibilities.
If your employer is using a scoring system similar to that above, make sure your staff record is up to date. Challenge any omissions, make sure all of your CPD and qualifications are recorded. Challenge any sick leave taken as a result of a disability (it’s against the Equality Act to include this). Challenge any disciplinary records where you were exonerated or that have expired. All of this will improve your score. Your union might, as mine did, challenge other criteria that are beyond your control. For example, we challenged student achievement, as some factors are beyond the control of the teacher.
You might consider putting forward some proposals as to how things could be done differently, for instance how money could be saved elsewhere, or how a reduction in hours might help. One of the things we discussed was reducing our hours by 20% (1 day per week). If 4 of us agreed to this, we could save 1 person’s job on the same terms.
Unfortunately, the employer didn’t go for that. Our entire department was scheduled to close, so there would be no work for us, even at reduced hours.
The other option we explored was “bumping”. This is a bit of a grey area, but here is a possible scenario:
Person A has not been selected for redundancy as their area is still profitable. Person B has been selected for redundancy as their area has become unprofitable. Person A wants to leave the organisation (possibly to retire early, or it might be that they are just fed up) and volunteers for redundancy. Person B has enough transferable skills that they can do Person A’s job (with a little retraining). Person A is given redundancy, and Person B takes their job.
This worked for some staff, but again it didn’t protect me as there were no suitable posts for me to be bumped into.
The third option was for the employer to find me “suitable alternative employment”. Again, this is a bit of a grey area – what is meant by a “suitable alternative”? I had joined the organisation to be a teacher, so what I classed as suitable would have been to continue as a teacher. Unfortunately again, this was not an option, as there were no suitable posts available within a subject field close enough to my own. The other factor affecting this is the salary that you can expect in the new post. Of course, any work is better than no work, but you have to weigh up whether it is better to look for another job elsewhere, knowing that you will have a cushion of some redundancy money to tide you over in the interim, or take a lower-paid role in the organisation and look for something else outside. And you also have to remember that during the period you are out of work you are not contributing to any pension fund.
I tried other avenues, even going so far as to invent a role for myself and try to persuade the CEO that it was a viable proposition. Well, if you don’t ask, you don’t get… Needless to say, I hit a dead end with that and found myself staring down the barrel of actually losing my job!
During all of this, I had been supported by my union. In the background, they had been carrying out collective consultation with management to try to minimise the number of redundancies. It was a somewhat unusual situation, as the union had entered into a dispute with the employer around both the scale of redundancies and the justification for them. Some of this was political, some was directed at the way management was dealing with it. But the key is that they were challenging the employer to think of ways to avoid redundancies – something that only a union can do without fear of reprisal. Another reason to join your union!
After exhausting every avenue, my colleagues and I were still at risk – in fact, it looked as though our entire department would close. We continued to fight against redundancy via the union, challenging every aspect of the process, lobbying our MPs and councillors, and even taking industrial action. But in the end, it was too much and my mental health started suffering badly.
My union rep advised me to think about voluntary redundancy. Looking back, this was probably the best advice I have ever had. I can’t divulge the details, but in a nutshell, the employer wanted rid of me, but couldn’t do so for my trade union activity alone as this would be victimisation and therefore illegal. My mental health had suffered, and our union had battled hard, shining a light on various things that the employer was not keen to become public. This improved my chances of getting a reasonable redundancy payment.
If you’re faced with a situation where you have a strong case that the employer is not playing by the rules, or there is evidence of some practices that could be used against them, as I said above you can use this to your advantage. They want to be rid of you to save money, and they will know that they are going to have to buy your silence. So don’t be shy – ask for the Moon on a stick! Bear in mind that redundancy is their choice, not yours. They are making you unemployed through no fault of your own, so you deserve proper compensation. They will have set a budget aside for redundancy payments, so it’s up to you to make sure you get as much as you can. Argue the case that the statutory minimum isn’t enough. You might need to upskill or retrain – so ask them to pay for any training you might need. Point out that it might take months to find another job, during which time you won’t be paying into a pension, so ask them to include the cost of their employer’s contributions for a period of time. If you know any secrets that they don’t want to become public – how much is it worth to keep quiet? Did they cause you mental distress that resulted in treatment? That’s worth a few bob. Be ruthless, they’re going to make you sign a compromise agreement to keep you quiet, so make it as expensive for them as possible.
In the end, I walked away with some money in my pocket, but no job. My mental health was in tatters, and I had to take some time out before I could even think about finding work. This period of reflection helped me decide to have a go at starting my own business. Such a decision can be a daunting prospect, and I am lucky that I have a supportive family and plenty of skills I can use. I realised that I’m not unemployable and that I have a lot going for me. So I guess that’s my final piece of advice – think about your options and make the choice that is right for you. The future is in your hands, and Future Shift can help you make the best of it!