Agency / Fixed Term Workers · Trade Unions

Trade Unions and Fixed Term Workers

tuc_LogoThe Fixed Term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations are, undoubtedly, an important protection against unscrupulous employers.But a reading of the preamble to the Council Directive 1999/70/EC, the European Directive the UK regulations implement make clear that fixed term employment should not be seen as the norm.

The parties to this agreement recognise that contracts of an indefinite duration are, and will continue to be, the general form of employment relationship between employers and workers. They also recognise that fixed-term employment contracts respond, in certain circumstances, to the needs of both employers and workers.

This agreement sets out the general principles and minimum requirements relating to fixed-term work, recognising that their detailed application needs to take account of the realities of specific national, sectoral and seasonal situations.

In spite of this I have observed a definite trend in that a significant number (and sometimes a majority) of new trade union vacancies are being advertised as being available on the basis that a would be employee being guaranteed employment for a limited period of time, usually only 12 months.

Certainly, I have no doubt that in certain circumstances a fixed term appointment may be reasonable. For example: if a temporary replacement is needed for an employee on a career break or maternity leave or to work on a time limited campaign. But the majority of posts are not these.

Take today, for example. At the moment the TUC website has the following posts advertised from affiliate unions:

  • NASUWT – 2 Posts – Both Permanent
  • CSP – 3 Posts – One three months FTA “with possibility of permanency”, the others Permanent
  • Unite – 7 Posts – One Permanent, the others one year fixed term appointment.
  • NAHT – 2 Posts – Permanent
  • GMB – 7 Posts – 2 Permanent, the others one year fixed term appointment
  • Prospect – 1 Post – Permanent
  • RCN – 2 Posts – One year fixed term appointment
  • FBU – 1 Post – Permanent

In sum then, of the 25 open vacancies being advertised on TUC Jobs today 10 (40%) are only available on fixed term appointment. There is not any indication in any of the advertisements why the posts are only available on a fixed term basis and nothing in the job descriptions to indicate that they are time limited. And, since all new employees would be required to pass a probationary period it cannot be to determine if they are a ‘good fit’ for the role.

Today’s figures are fairly representative of general trends in trade union recruitment and that concerns me.

Let’s get the personal reason out of the way first: I am not just looking at TUC jobs for entertainment purposes, if a role comes up I would like to and think i would do well do then I’d quite possibly apply for it. And there have been jobs that i think I’d be good at but, normally – and this may just be bad luck – it is those jobs that seem to be available on a fixed term appointment. I am certainly not on a great wage but nonetheless, even if the roles advertised pay a bit more than I am at the moment I am not going to leave a role where I have permanent contract for a fixed term one with no job security.

Second, I think the least we can expect of trade union’s as employers is that it sets a good example for other employers. Just last year the TUC published research that showed that by a significant majority new jobs created lacked security, be that because they were agency, zero hour or fixed term appointments. Whilst I am not suggesting that trade union employment practices are on a par with purveyors of zero hour contractors etc this reliance on temporary contracts to complete ostensibly permanent roles is not good enough. After all,  even the EC acknowledged contracts of “indefinite duration” are the “general form” of employee recruitment.  It seems to me to be bad form that major unions are lagging behind this ideal.

Third, we know that this government has made legal remedy much harder for employees, restricting the right of employees to claim unfair dismissal after over two years service. With the huge increase of those workers on insecure contracts of employments there are huge swathes of the current workforce who are deprived any legal redress as a result of Conservative and Lib Dem policies (and, Labour has not exactly been forthcoming in committing to rescind these changes). To be sure, the TUC have been critical of these laws but let’s be under no illusion TUC HR managers in setting these contracts at a length below that which enables employees to challenge their dismissals in a meaningful way don’t know exactly what they are doing. And, since next to none of these fixed term advertisements show no indication that they are in fact genuinely time limited the effect is that these union HR departments have knowingly pitched their adverts to ensure any successful applicant has no recourse if their ‘face does not fit’ once in post.  Unenforceable ‘promises’ such as ‘with possibility of leading to permanent contract” only reinforce this cynicism. If you get a post don’t for the sake of your career ask any difficult questions or volunteer to be a union rep, or magistrate, or army reservist etc as you may find a contract is not renewed for ‘business’ reasons.

There is nothing unlawful about the advertisements from these TUC unions, but am I alone in thinking this is bad form and a bad example?

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