Return to the office…

The limited re-opening of AXA offices continues with Birmingham, Glasgow, Haverhill and Weybridge due to reopen with limited capacity over the next several weeks, with all those returning to the office doing so on a voluntary basis. As with all previous reopenings we have engaged actively with the company on your behalf, ensuring that health and safety is front and centre of the decision making process.

Whilst for many working from home will continue to be the norm for the time being, AXA are looking to ensure there is no drastic drop off in productivity. Consequently it may be in some business areas, where working from home has had a demonstrable negative impact on productivity, and if there is capacity in your local office (subject to social distancing requirements etc), that you may be asked to return to the office for some days a week.

This will only occur if your manager has demonstrated the necesity to do this due to a reduction in productivity.

If you have concerns about returning to the office (eg, you normally use public transport and have concerns over using it safely) or have child care issues or health issues, then in the first instance you should have a conversation with your manager who should address them and hopefully suggest ways of alleviating your concerns or problems.

If you are not satisfied with your manager’s response, then please contact your local union reps who will work with you to try and reach a solution.

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AXA offices reopening…

Monday will see AXA begin the process of re-opening some of its offices following the lockdown. In AXA Insurance these offices are Ipswich, Middlesbrough and Morecambe and less than 50 staff will be returning across the three sites. Additionally Ipswich and Middlesbrough will be used for some training before those staff return to working from home.

Unite in AXA have been heavily involved in consultation with the company over these reopenings and our primary focus has been on the health and safety of those returning. We have seen the in-depth risk assessments for the three sites and shared these with the lead union reps at each site for their input and challenge.

We have ensured that AXA provide masks to be worn by those that wish, checked social distancing protocols not only within the buildings but also outside in car parks etc. all to make sure those returning are kept as safe as possible.

Those returning will have to abide by certain rules not only for their own safety, but also that of their colleagues and we would encourage any members in this first tranche of returnees to make sure they know the rules and follow them.

The returning staff are those that have, for various reasons, been unable to work from home during the lockdown. AXA has confirmed that no employee is being forced to return to the office and if they do not feel comfortable at this stage, they will not be made to. If you are told to, or feel pressured by your manager to return to the office before you are comfortable, please speak to your local union rep.

This is the first phase of the re-opening process and the next stage with more sites re-opening is likely to be within the next few weeks depending on the success of phase one and the relaxing of Government guidlines. However, again, any further re-openings will be limited numbers of people wise and we are told on a voluntary basis.

Whilst social distancing protocols remain in place, it is not physically possible for the vast majority of workers to return to normal office work in AXA, so working from home for the majority is the new norm for the majority for the foreseeable future.

With that in mind we have been extremely vocal on the issue of AXA supplying the necessary equipments beyond just laptops and phones to allow you to work from home safely and comfortably. Hopefully the frustrating problems many have experienced have now been sorted and chairs, screens, desks etc are now being shipped to workers who need them. If you are still  experiencing problems having your requirements agreed, please speak to your local Unite in AXA rep.

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A message from Unite Finance and Legal sector national officers

Unite finance and legal sector officers and workplace representatives are continuously working to protect you during these difficult times. Unite has three priorities for the workforce across your sector during the current health crisis: 

  1. Your health and mental well-being
  2. Your income and
  3. Your job security.

Your union representatives will continue to work day in and day out to protect you throughout the pandemic.

However, Unite understands that in some workplaces like call centers, processing offices and banking branches there are many challenges around social distancing. Unite has heard from colleagues who are fearful about the easing of lock-down conditions and the eventual return to workplaces. Unite stands shoulder to shoulder with you. This is not the time for a return for business as usual within the finance sector.

If you have concerns about current or changing working practices in your workplace Unite is here to support you. Remember you have the right to work safely and to step away if you’re asked to work unsafely. Please do not hesitate to contact your local representative or regional office so that your union can take action to protect you.

The Unite the union message is clear – your wellbeing, your income and your job security are the only things that matter. There can be no return to business as usual within the finance sector.

You can view the latest news from Unite at: www.unitetheunion.org/campaigns/coronavirus-covid-19-advice/

Dominic Hook and Rob MacGregor
Unite national officers

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Working from home… with kids!

Everyone is finding working from home challenging and sometimes quite stressful, even more so if you are also trying to juggle the demands of small children no longer at school or in nursery/child minding.

By and large we think that most employees and managers are considerate of the additional pressures their colleagues with children are facing at present, but unfortunately we have been approached by some members about negative comments being said or posted about them on social media when childcare needs impacts their ability to do their job, especially those whose role involves customer-centric shifts.

To be clear this is unacceptable and is bullying. We have raised this issue with HR and they agree it is unacceptable. If you find colleagues are making negative comments about your issues balancing childcare responsibilities and work, you should speak to your manager. If they do not resolve the issue speak to your local Unite rep and we will help address the bullying.

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We need more kit… now!

As have said previously AXA’s response to the Covid-19 crisis and speed at which it managed to get us all working from home with new laptops was praiseworthy, reducing the risk of infection to staff in as timely a manner as possible. 

Unfortunately since then, the follow up to provide additional equipment to make working from home easier and safer has been less speedy. Many members have contacted us saying how their working arrangements at home are unsatisfactory due to the lack of facilities the have. Employees have reported to us being hunched over laptops sat of coffee tables, sat in an armchair all day, using an ironing board as a desk and even working from their bed! Others have reported eye strain issues with only having a small laptop screen when normally they use two monitors.

Not only does this negatively impact the abilities of us to do the work we are trying to do, it also has a negative impact on our health with the increased risk of back problems and eyesight to name just two.

It is now two weeks since AXA told employees it was looking into this but nothing much appears to have been done and we have told the company that it must prioritise the issue of lack of suitable desks, chairs, screens, keyboards, mouse etc for employees working from home, and they need to do this in the same speedy manner as they rolled out laptops.

Additionally we have raised the issue were staff have attempted to resolve issues of kit their managers have not by dipping into their own pocket to by a mouse or other equipment just so they can do their job more efficiently. A multi-national company the size of AXA should not expect its employees to buy the equipment neeeded to do the job they are employed to and we fully expect AXA to recompense any reasonable purchases.

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International Workers’ Day (#ThankAWorker)

This May Day (Friday 1 May), let us show our appreciation for all those key workers that are looking after us in these difficult times. #ThankAWorker

This May Day our usual planned events can no longer take place, but it’s more important than ever to mark the contribution that workers make every day.

This pandemic show us how much we owe frontline workers. In health, in care and in all our vital services. They are the best of us and we say thank you.

Here’s what you can do today

Step 1: Post a short video on social media thanking a worker who’s made a difference to you.

Step 2: Then nominate 3 of your family members or friends to also thank a worker in their own video.

Step 3:Tag them in your post and use hashtags #mayday and #ThankAWorker.

You could choose your postie, shop worker, someone in the NHS, delivery driver, food worker or any other frontline worker…

Please spread the word now so as many people as possible can be ready to post their videos to mark the day. Encourage your friends, family members and colleagues to take part. Save this shareable graphic to let others know what to do. 

These workers are risking their lives to ensure we can be safe at home. The very least we can do is #ThankAWorker. 

If you don’t have time to take the action, simply download these social images graphic 1graphic 2 and post it on your feed.

It is important that everyone tells their own story of appreciation so if you have a special thanks to make, simply post your message using #ThankAWorker

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Internet outages…

A number of members have contacted us about the various internet outages across the country, notably for Virgin Media, BT and Sky customers and the impact on them working from home.

Recent Sky Broadband outages

We have spoken to HR about this and they have confirmed that it should be treated the same as if you were working in the office and there was an internet or other failure, and staff are not expected to make the time lost suffered by an outage or take holiday.

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International Workers’ Memorial Day 2020

Every year more people are killed at work than in wars. Most don’t die of mystery ailments, or in tragic “accidents”. They die because an employer decided their safety just wasn’t that important a priority. International Workers’ Memorial Day (IWMD) commemorates those workers.

Every year on April 28th, all around the world the trade union movement unites to mark International Workers’ Memorial Day (#IWMD20).

We remember those who have lost their lives at work, or from work-related injury and diseases. We renew our efforts to organise collectively to prevent more deaths, injuries and disease as a result of work.

Workers Memorial Day is commemorated throughout the world and is officially recognised by the UK Government.

We remember those we have lost.

Theme for 2020: Coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic affects every worker regardless of sector or locality. Tens of thousands of workers worldwide have died. More have fallen ill or continue to go to work risking their lives. Many workers are still attending work ill-equipped and without necessary safety measures in place.

While we may not be able to attend the memorial events which usually take place on IWMD, as public gatherings around the world are not advised or allowed; there are many ways trade union members can take part in our collective day of remembrance.

We remember those we have lost. 

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Commercial flexitime suspension

Last week we learnt that Commercial had suspended the operation of flexitime and accrual of hours whilst employees worked from home with immediate effect. Unite in AXA were not consulted on this beforehand.

Yesterday we held a meeting with Jon Walker, Commercial Director, about his decision and raised our concerns over the lack of prior consultation, the impact on staff and their ability to react to urgent customer needs, and the decision to not allow individuals to take flexidays from the time they have already accrued.

Jon Walker advised the reason for the decision was primarilly driven by concerns for the mental well-being of Commercial staff working from home during the crisis, as well as problems that could arise out a build up of flexitime to be taken once employees return to the office. He advised there was no intention to make this suspension permanent.

We stressed that we would not accept employees being expected to work beyond their contracted hours to meet customer needs without any form of compensation, whether than be in the form of time accrual, time off in lieu or overtime payment.

It was agreed that employees should not be expected to work beyond their contracted hours for free and that if necessary specific instances were extra work is required by staff for customer service reasons then they would be allowed to record this as accrued time. It was also agreed that staff who had already accrued enough hours to take time off could do so.

We are assured this is a temporary measure and we will ensure that the decision is regularly reviewed to ensure it meets the needs of our members as well as that of the business as the current situation evolves.

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Coronavirus (COVID-19)

A number of members have approached us with concerns around the Cornonavirus outbreak and its implications from a work point of view. The subject is an evolving one and it is important to avoid speculation and sharing of erroneous information.

AXA UK has a ‘Coronavirus Hub’ with frequently updated FAQ that can be accessed via the company intranet here.

The NHS page with advice and common questions can be found here.

The Government page with travel information and guidance can be found here.

We are in ongoing consultation with the company and if you cannot find the answer to an immediate issue from the above, please speak to your local union rep and we will raise with the appropriate people at AXA.

We would ask though to try and avoid speculative what if questions (eg. what if schools close; something the Government views as unlikely at present). If these matters do become likely we will engage with the company to address them, but priority must be given to more immediate issues.

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