Members in Commercial Branches will now be aware that AXA Commercial is requiring them to work in the office a minimum three days of week. This change to team agreements in place since June 2021 was done without any consultation with, or the knowledge of, Unite in AXA. Following the unilateral suspension of flexitime back in 2019 – again without consultation (as required by the flexitime policy) we had hoped Commercial management would be following Group policy on social dialogue.
The country-wide diktat from the Company appears to contradict the changes to hybrid working contract email sent to staff in June 2021 which stated the levels of office/home working would be decided by “team agreements” (which are agreed at a local not national level) and would take into account you “own preferences”. This instruction from the Commercial exec does not comply with this and we believe could well break rules around custom and practice on working patterns. On top of this we are surprised that management think it is a good idea to increase commuting and travelling costs for under pressure employees during a cost of living rise, especially when many of these staff are not paid the market rate for the role they have.
If you are impacted by these changes and would like to challenge them, could you please contact you local Unite rep as soon as possible.
Members in AXA Commercial will have seen that flexitime (re-branded banked hours) will be reintroduced in their business area from the 1st July. It has been almost 15 months since the operation suspended flexitime and employees unable to bank excess hours. We are glad to see that the situation has now changed and those members working unpaid excess hours will now be able to bank them or take time off in lieu.
The consultation over this has been protracted and intense with many differing viewpoints being put forward. It is no secret that some people would like to see flexitime removed, whereas we know it is an extremely valuable benefit to our members.
Since Commercial published its principles of how it was looking to reintroduce flexible working we have been inundated with feedback from members. The main areas of concern were the pre-booking of flexitime and what would happen to excess hours worked that had not been pre-booked. A smaller amount of feedback revolved around the reduction in potential flexidays to 6.
Pre-booking flexitime: somewhat ironically this is not a new rule and was introduced in 2013 when the first flexitime charters were rolled out. Despite being in the site charters it appears very few managers applied the rule. Our view was that if it was not broke, don’t fix it. Management’s view is that its application going forward with be ‘light touch’ which is a bit nebulous but if your local manager has previously trusted you to work excess hours we expect they will continual to trust you.
Work outside bankable hours: one legitimate concern was what would happen (for example) if you were stuck on the phone with a customer past your standard hours but had not pre-booked flexible working or the work took less than the 30 minute bankable block. There never was any intention from the company that this work would be unpaid, but this was not made clear. Should you end up stuck on the phone, or are finishing an urgent piece of work after your contracted hours you will be given that time back as “time off in lieu”. Should that extra work take more than 30 minutes your manager can alternatively offer you that back as bankable hours.
Number of flexidays: before April 2020 some staff in Commercial were able to take up to 13 flexidays a year, others were not allowed to take any. Finding a way of squaring that circle has not been easy and trying to find one rule that works in a trading centre and also works in a small branch has been problematical. Given that no more than 50% of staff were taking six days a year we pushed for that as the number to be accommodated (it is more than what was initially pitched). This figure will be reviewed next year when we will have a year of recorded centralised data to review.
Whilst we appreciate not everyone will be happy with the final outcome, especially the small percentage who would build up their hours to take 13 flexidays before the suspension of flexitime, we think that the final outcome is reasonable with some members who did not get flexitime now getting it and it is a more reasonable proposition than the current suspension of flexitime that in our opinion has gone on too long.
At the start of the pandemic flexitime was suspended in Commercial Lines. Since then we have engaged with the business in an effort to see the reintroduction of it in some form as soon as was practical. Following on from our survey last year, which raised a number of concerns around the suspension, a working party (which included several union reps) was set up by AXA to look into flexible working in Commercial Lines, with a view to how this could work in the forthcoming smart working environment.
This working party gathered feedback from commercial staff across all grades and departments and has now produced a set of proposedprinciples for flexible working for Commercial going forward, which incorporates flexitime (now called banked hours) as an option giving employees access to different flexible working options, including the ability to work flexibly within the working day/ week and the ability to bank hours where there is a business need for additional hours to be worked. These guidelines are different from the old rather prescriptive flexitime charter rules and see a number of improvements but also see some changes that some people may feel impact them negatively.
The flexible working principles have now been published so employees can read and understand the proposed changes and we are encouraging you to provide feedback to your local union rep to be fed back into the working party about any major concerns you might possibly have with the new guidelines.
The principles are of course a compromise of many different viewpoints on the subject and whilst not everyone is going to be pleased with some of the proposed changes, the improvements from current rules hopefully demonstrate that whilst the end result is a compromise it is a definite improvement to the ongoing suspension of flexitime.
The recent Commercial Flexitime Survey put into black and white, the stark issue of the amount of extra hours Commercial staff are having to undertake to support customers and the business, much of it without any form of compensation from AXA Insurance.
Over 250 employees completed the survey and almost nine in ten said they were working in excess of their contracted hours with over one-third saying they worked in excess of five hours a week extra. This is of concern as the main reason Commercial Operations senior management gave us in March for suspending flexitime was to avoid staff working excess hours for mental health reasons.
The vast majority of respondents said they were doing this to keep on top of their normal workload and worryingly one-third were doing this extra work without their manager even being aware.
Of those staff doing excess hours and where their manager was aware, despite the assurances of Jon Walker, head of Commercial, back in March that staff would not be expected to work excess hours for nothing, six in ten employees have been told by their local management that they cannot claim the extra hours they have worked supporting the business.
Half of those staff had been told by their manager that they would not be compensated for the extra time they have worked as â€œflexitime been suspended/not available/withdrawnâ€, contradicting the promises made by senior management. The other half were not given a reason.
The results did not come as a surprise to Unite in AXA, we pointed out in March after flexitime was unilaterally suspended by management that staff regularly work excess hours to support customer need and in July flagged the issue that despite the promise Jon Walker made, local managers in many instances were not crediting staff with work done beyond contracted hours whether that be by overtime, flexitime hours banking or time off in lieu.
We have presented the survey to Jon Walker, Commercial HR and other senior HR managers and look forward to their response to our findings and what action they propose to take following receipt of the data that they requested we find to back up our previously raised concerns.
At the end of April Commercial Lines suspended flexitime without consultation with Unite. In subsequent conversations Commercial management stated they were doing this in the interests of employee well being so people did not work excessive hours at home. We disagreed with this citing a range of factors from business needs, to ways of managing the perceived problem, to the fact other areas in AXA Insurance still were operating flexitime eg. Claims, but the decision had already been made.
Jon Walker, head of Commercial, assured us that no member of staff would be expected to work more than their contracted hours, and if they needed to for specific customer needs then they would no be expected to work for free and would be given the time back.
Regardless of that we have received numerous calls from members that this is not happening, or only after making a lot of fuss with their manager often requiring the intervention of their local union rep.
In July, with some staff now working back in the office, we suggested a phased return of flexitime but Commercial management have ignored our suggestion, eventually after two months of chasing, only offering to set up a working party to see how flexitime will operate in the future smart working environment (the hybrid, part home/part office one) even though that is at its formative discussion stage and no where near being rolled out.
Despite the anecdotal evidence we provided from members, Commercial management do not believe there is a problem so we have decided to survey as many staff as we can in Commercial operations across the country to evidence how widespread the issue is.
Consequently if you work in Commercial Lines (not in Claims or Finance doing Commercial orientated work) we would be grateful if you could complete this survey, and encourage your colleagues also, so we can pursue the matter of flexitime with senior management.
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.