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Hakarmaskannar
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I have been in my current job for eight years now and over the course of that time I have had my wages increased from time to time. I work 13-hour shifts on a 2-on/2-off/3-on/2-off/2-on/3-off pattern which means I have long hours, but also plenty of time at home with my family. During the course of previous wage-negotiations I, and everyone else, have been awarded increases in my holiday entitlement in lieu of a greater financial increase to my salary. Some others work a more standard 40 hour day-shift (Mon-Fri) but we were all given, in four instances, "One extra day of Leave entitlement". No-one complained about the disparity as the people working eight/nine hour shifts, although getting less of an award technically, didn't have to work from 6am-7pm, 9am-10pm or 7pm-6am, and they also didn't have to work weekends or Bank (read National) holidays.

A new manager has taken over at my workplace and he is implementing a change to the structure of the holiday-system and is having our leave entitlement calculated in hours rather than days and equalizing them (downwards) for all staff, regardless of previous arrangements. In effect, I and many other staff, who work 13-hour shifts, will lose out on a total of seven-days leave. Now I know that I am not owed a living, or even a job, but I took the job on a permanent basis and the contract of employment he is changing is a contract, voluntarily entered into by both parties and must only be changed with both parties' consent. I have not consented to the new change, as I do not agree with it and I will suffer a financial loss compared to my current situation by accepting it. Now I am in the situation where I will be released from my contract if I do not sign up to the propsed changes.

I know where I stand with regard to British employment law-I have grounds to sue for Constructive Dismissal-but I am looking for an objective opinion on whether I am ethically correct in pursuing that avenue. As I see it (from my possibly biased standpoint) I have entered into an open-ended contract of employment whereby as long as I fulfill the terms I will continue to be employed (barring being made redundant due to tecnological or efficiency advances) and am now being asked to do the same work for less reward. Am I just clinging onto a remnant of British socialism in employment law, or am I viewing the situation objectively.

Thank you in advance for any advice and feel free to ask for any clarifications I may have left out. :)

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Now I know that I am not owed a living, or even a job, but I took the job on a permanent basis and the contract of employment he is changing is a contract, voluntarily entered into by both parties and must only be changed with both parties' consent. I have not consented to the new change, as I do not agree with it and I will suffer a financial loss compared to my current situation by accepting it. Now I am in the situation where I will be released from my contract if I do not sign up to the propsed changes.

...

As I see it (from my possibly biased standpoint) I have entered into an open-ended contract of employment whereby as long as I fulfill the terms I will continue to be employed (barring being made redundant due to tecnological or efficiency advances) and am now being asked to do the same work for less reward.

I sympathize with your plight, but first let's establish what the contract actually says. A contract should have some duration, and if your contract runs to the end of the year, they can let you go at that time. Look carefully at the dismissal clause -- the idea of a "job on a permanent basis", from a contractual basis, is untenable, so I would think that the contract actually says something which you might interpret as pointing to a permanent job but is not quite that. 'Permanence' is never absolute, and an employee can be dismissed for cause, financial necessity, or redundancy. At the end of the contract, you are free to walk, and they are free to push you out the door.

You probably can't quote too extensively, but it would be helpful if you could say something more specific about the contract language that leads you to think that your number of vacation days is stated in the contract and that the new plan would constitute a breach of contract. I think the only ethical grounds for pursuing the matter in court would be in terms of breach, and nothing at all having to do with UK employment law. The idea of a "permanent" job where the permanence is not a consequence of the contract itself is a socialist concept, so once you get free of the idea that you have a permanent job, you have to face the fact that you can be let go, just as they constantly have to face the fact that you could leave.

Something about "permanent" jobs that always struck me as bizarre is that it is so unilateral. A "permanent" job is one where you can't be let go except under extraordinary circumstances, the presumption being that you need the job and that it wouldn't be fair for the boss to hire someone better. So how come employers can't also enslave workers, and force people to work for them? You don't see employers suing employees for quitting and taking better jobs, and yet the logic applies to employers as well as to employees. The employers need the workers, and it isn't fair for a worker to leave a company to work for someone better. I've always found the logic of "permanent jobs" to be incomprehensible.

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I broadly agree with Dave Odden. I've generally thought of the employer-employee relationship as an at-will trade. The employee sets a range of terms under which he is willing to work for the employer; the employer sets a range of terms under which he will employ the employee. If the two sets of terms overlap, then a mutually beneficial trade (i.e. a hiring) is possible. If at some point in the future the range of acceptable terms should change, on either side, then no mutually-beneficial relationship is possible and the employment relationship should terminate.

That's from the ethical standpoint. It's certainly possible for the actual employment contract to specify no change in terms of employment within a specified time period, and should such contractual terms exist and be violated then it's reasonable to seek legal recourse. However, it is worth noting that even in such a case, the mutual basis of interest between the employer and employee is no longer present, and that suggests that the employee should be seeking another job in any case. At that point the employee is effectively using government force to make the employer do something it would not otherwise do, and that's not a stable long-term basis for a mutually-beneficial employment relationship.

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Thank you both for your replies.

The clarifications you have both provided are gratefully received and I just wish I'd been able to fully explore the situation with a focused mind. Unfortunately that wasn't the case, but I'm glad I at least realised there was a problem with some of my premises :P

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The situation you're in (if one assumes the facts in your favor, as you report them) sounds like this: one party to a contract wants to change the terms retroactively. The nature of the relationship is such that the contract keeps getting renewed. For instance, if your employer can give you 3 months notice and let you go, it's almost as if he's renewing the contract for another 3 months every day.

Legally, if you force the other party's hand, you might end up with terms not being retroactive, but the contract also not being renewed. This type of thing happens in other contracts too, not just employment contracts. For instance, a buyer calls up and tells a vendor that he needs 10% off the contracted price of goods for the rest of the year (which is the duration of the contract). Getting into a legal fight could mean non-renewal after a year.

OTOH, just because one does not use legal recourse, does not mean that one should do nothing. The vendor in the example above could give the 10% discount, but also bargain for something in return: more volume, longer contract duration, or so many other possibilities.

In an employment context, if something is being done that you're displeased with, the first question would be: does the boss realize this? For instance, does he genuinely think -- for whatever reason -- that his new formula is the right one? Does he realize the impact on you? Has he been told, either directly or by some intermediate supervisor?

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