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Thursday, 10 September 2009

Do staff have the right for extra pay on Sundays?

It cannot have escaped people's notice (unless you live on Nibiru, and even then not) that rail operator London Midland has been forced to continue paying their workers double time on Sundays in order to avoid the cancellation of Sunday services operating to Liverpool and the West Midlands.

Last Sunday the operator was forced to cancel the majority of these services when staff refused to work following the ending of a temporary agreement to pay double time on Sundays which ended on August 30th. The company has since announced that it has come to an agreement with staff to continue with these payments for an "extended period".

Not surprisingly this led to a flurry of protests and comments from both passengers and the media, most of whom seemed to be against the action taken by London Midland employees. Having weighed up all the facts, I am surprised to find that I agree with this view. After all, it is not as if it were a permanent agreement, the staff knew that this would soon be coming to an end, and they also know that their employers wealth is not limitless. Yes, they have got used to these extra payments, but they do not appear to be a contractual right, and they knew that they would only continue until the end of August, so I do not see what the fuss is about.

Contrary to popular opinion, workers do not have the right to extra pay for working unsocial hours. Whether they should is not a matter for me to debate, but for them to debate with their employers. I have to work Sundays in my job, as do millions of other workers in many different industries, and I do not get double time, but time and a quarter, which I am more than happy with. The one right that Sunday workers do have however is the right to opt out, and also the right not to be discriminated against because of their religious beliefs (if they refuse to work on Sundays for example because they are Christian).

In fact, the right to opt out of Sunday working only applies to retail and betting shop workers - other industries such as nursing, security and yes, transport are not covered, as those in these jobs have always had to accept that they will be a certain amount of Sunday work - it goes with the territory. If you are not prepared to do this, then don't apply for this type of work (unless you are a Christian). The other thing with regard to Sunday working if you are a a retail or betting shop employee, is that rather than opting out, you have to opt in. When I think about it, I never did do this with my previous employer, it was just taken for granted that I didn't object. I obviously didn't, as I turned up for work (without I add extra pay - although we were paid for a 8 hour day when we only worked for 6).

If you are a retail or betting shop worker, and object to working on Sundays, you must give your employer three months written notice of this (some employers only require one months notice, so check your handbook carefully). If you choose to opt in, it is up to you to agree with your employer exactly what work you are prepared to do on a Sunday, and its frequency. You have the right to opt out at a later date after you have opted in should you so choose, as long as you give the required notice, and cannot be discriminated against (passed over for promotion etc) because of this.

The regulations do not apply in Scotland or to those who are contracted to work on Sundays only.

I cannot help feeling that London Midland are making a big mistake with this in giving in to their staff and their demands, but at the same time, can see that they have been placed in a very awkward situation. The only alternative they appear to have is to sack their entire staff and replace them with other workers - but the strike would have to continue for a long time before they could justify this, and not just one day. Is wasn't a strike anyway, since Sunday working has always been voluntary, and you cannot sack someone for failing to volunteer. Even if they could sack them all, in a skilled job like this it is not that simple. They need trained staff to operate these trains and these do not come out of thin air. You cannot just walk in off the street and drive a train like you can operate a till.

What then is the solution - for the union and the employer to negotiate - it is the only solution that there is - I just hope that the union this time is sensible and does not make unreasonable demands that cannot be met.

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