Prospect is asking SONI, Northern Ireland’s electricity system operator, to trust its staff to manage their leave responsibly and voluntarily in the current circumstances.
EirGrid, which develops and operates the national electricity grid on the island of Ireland, instructed all employees to take seven days of their annual leave entitlement during the period up to the end of May 2020.
Prospect was not consulted about this and has already provided feedback to SONI about the inconsistent communications to staff.
SONI management has now clarified that this is a “request” that it would prefer staff to comply with.
Prospect negotiator Angela Moffett said: “We understand the operational rationale that has driven this request and we don’t think it will be an issue for most of our members.
“However, the feedback from members is that they do not think a blanket rule for all is the best way forward. We are asking SONI management to trust and allow SONI staff the flexibility to manage their leave responsibly and voluntarily in the current circumstances.”
She also pointed out that members are not obliged to comply with the company’s request.
She advised members who are unable to comply with the company's request at this time, whether in part or in full, to email their manager stating the reasons why they are unable to do so.
“We expect management to apply logic and common sense so that staff well-being, and the varying personal circumstances of themselves and their families, is fully taken into account.”
Members can voluntarily request annual leave at any point in the year and it may help the company operationally to do so now, she added.
“If you later request leave, and there is a backlog to be taken by the workforce, the company may reasonably refuse it, if it is not operationally possible to grant it at the time sought,” she said.
Amendments to Working Time regulations
The Northern Ireland Executive is currently consulting on legislation mirroring that of the UK ie the ability to carry forward annual leave over a longer period.
The government has announced that it will amend the Working Time regulations to provide for carry over of leave “where it is not reasonably practicable for a worker to take some, or all, of the holidays to which they are entitled due to the Coronavirus”.
Under the current Working Time Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016, employers can mandate workers to take annual leave. Employers must give two days’ notice for every one day required to be taken if the request becomes an instruction.
“Given that legislation to allow workers to carry over more leave than usual is in the pipeline, we will be writing to management to reiterate our view that staff should not be forced to take leave.
“We’ll also be asking why they did not consult us, and how they reasonably expect to retain the goodwill of staff when it is most needed, if they operate in this manner.
“Unfortunately, the way SONI has handled this contradicts its recent commitment to work in partnership with Prospect to improve industrial relations,” Moffatt concluded.