Managers to get life back

26th March 2004 at 00:00
Union pledges to tackle stress in the workplace. Steve Hook reports

A survey of college managers has led them to deliver a damning verdict on life in further education - it is too much like hard work.

The Association for College Management says it will be taking up the case of work-related stress as thousands of its members admit they are working hours which are in breach of their employment rights.

Stress and excessive workloads were high on the agenda when Peter Pendle, general secretary of the ACM, gave his speech at the union's annual conference in Solihull this week.

Legal restrictions say the working week should be no longer than 48 hours, but 17 per cent of college managers are putting in more than 60, and 63 per cent more than 48, according to the ACM's own research.

Nationally, 17 per cent of people work more than 48 hours, according to research by the Trades Union Congress, and the number is steadily increasing.

Enforcement is the responsibility of the Health and Safety Executive, which only acts if it gets a complaint. The TUC says the HSE should be given more staff to enforce the legislation and a remit to seek out offending employers.

The ACM says that, of those college managers who work over their hours, 4 per cent have opted out of the protection they are given by the European Union working time directive.

At the moment, the directive allows for an opt-out, but this loophole is expected to be closed next year - although the ACM fears it will be some time before the amendment becomes law in the UK.

The TUC is concerned that people do not opt out voluntarily but are pressured to do so by their employers. It says workers should not be allowed to opt out of health and safety law.

It says the opt-out clause has effectively "neutered" the directive and that, in any case, most of the protection it offers has been rendered meaningless by lack of enforcement within the UK.

Mr Pendle told delegates: "The ACM wants its members to have a life. We want you to have a proper work-life balance and to enjoy good health. The workplace shouldn't make you ill and it shouldn't destroy your family life.

"The ACM intends to challenge the long-hours culture. We will be seeking the support of the TUC and we shall be reminding colleges of their legal duties."

The ACM last year recovered pound;300,000 in compensation for a college manager who was made ill by work-related stress.

Under the directive, member states signed up to an agreement that staff will not be required to put in more than 48 hours a week "in keeping with the need to protect the safety and health".

It also sets out how much annual leave staff are entitled to and their right to a break if they work more than a six-hour day.

The ACM and other further education unions will be lobbying Alan Johnson over working hours when they have their next regular meeting with the further and higher education minister in mid-April.

While the ACM represents managers, including principals, Mr Pendle admitted the long-hours culture among his members can affect their expectations of the hours which the staff they manage should work.

He told FE Focus: "There is a knock-on effect and we want to work with other education unions, as well as supporting the TUC's own campaign on the working time directive, to make sure the legislation is being complied with."

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