New ways of working and reasonable adjustments

Back to all Motions

2016 Higher Education Service Group Conference
4 November 2015
Carried as Amended

Conference notes that government cuts mean employers are looking for new ways of working to save money without cutting jobs. Often referred to as Lean or Agile Working, these methods were developed by Toyota and are predominantly used in manufacturing industries. If implemented correctly they can bring financial savings and improve working conditions. While we recognise the value of this approach we need to ensure the impact on disabled members is considered at every stage.

Conference is concerned that some public sector employers are adopting measures to cut costs, reduce waste and increase productivity while ignoring key principles like effective communication, increased career development and improving staff satisfaction. Employers are failing to recognise that delivering public services is not a production line and a ‘one size fits all’ approach will not work.

Hot desking may reduce accommodation costs, but a study by the University of Wolverhampton found competition for space makes employees feel undervalued, reduces morale and effects productivity. The impact on disabled people is higher, with increased risk of illness from infection; eye strain from monitors that don’t suit individual needs; muscular problems and fatigue from unsuitable chairs; loss of control for learning disabled people who rely on structure; and stress and anxiety for people who need a safe and accessible place for medication or disability related equipment. This type of working can actively aggravate an individual’s disability or condition.

Open plan offices accommodate more people, but as average person’s auditory band width is only 1.6 people, they make hearing, talking and concentrating difficult. The additional adverse impact on people with hearing impairments is significant; stress increases and productivity is reduced by up to 66% and people with mental health issues report the constant noise has a detrimental impact on their health.

Home or remote working is increasingly a popular option for employers and organisations because it reduces overheads and accommodation costs. However, employers are still responsible for workers health and safety when working at home but many don’t carry out risk assessments or provide appropriate equipment. Home working can be a good option, but reduced social interaction and lack of support and structure can be devastating for some disabled members. Negative impacts including isolation and depression; pressure from no defined end to the work day; alienation from workplace changes; lack of development opportunities; and being overlooked for promotion can affect anyone working from home, but as some employers use home working to avoid making reasonable adjustments in the workplace the potential negative impact on disabled members is significantly higher. There are also significant detrimental financial impacts that employers are passing onto the individual, i.e. permission from mortgagor/landlord to cater for business use, additional broadband usage and additional household insurance costs that are generally unregulated.

Other aspects of lean working such as a production line approach, generic job descriptions, zero hours contracts, mobile working, commissioned outcomes and compressed hours can all have a differential negative impact on disabled members.

In Higher Education there is also a double standard by employers in the environments they provide for students versus what is provided for their own employees particularly in relation to space, equipment and investment in the infrastructure.

Conference calls on the Higher Education Service Group to work with the National Disabled Members Committee to;

1)Develop guidance for Branches and Regions to support disabled members to request reasonable adjustments to new ways of working.

2)Liaise and work with Service Groups and bargaining support, to share best practice examples of implementing new ways of working.

3) Use this issue to recruit and organise members in higher education.