FDA warns on Government Legal Department workload as Brexit looms

Friday 8 March 2017

The Government Legal Department must be properly resourced for the challenges of Brexit, FDA Assistant General Secretary Naomi Cooke has said, as she called on the GLD to ensure it is not reliant on staff working "extra hours every week for free".

Cooke was speaking at this week's  annual GLD conference in London, which brought together staff from across Government and this year focused on "Work and Wellbeing".

The FDA Assistant General Secretary used a panel session chaired by the GLD's Human Resources director Mark Burch to reveal some of the "sobering" findings of the union's latest staff survey.

Among its findings, the survey shows that one in five GLD respondents report regularly working more than 48 hours a week, while 90% say they do not recall opting out of the EU Working Time Directive, which limits working hours.

Cooke added: "Half did not use all of their annual leave last year. And the most common cited reason for this was workload. 

"Three quarters have worked while on annual leave or sick leave in the last year."

The FDA's Assistant General Secretary told the panel that while "no corner" of the civil service had the staffing levels or resources it would like, the GLD must not take its "greatest resource" - its workforce - for granted as it grapples with the additional work of Britain's exit from the European Union.

"The FDA doesn’t believe that working extra hours every week for free is something people should have to get used to," she said.

Cooke said the GLD "should make the case for more staff" if necessary, and suggested a series of practical changes the department could make to address staff overload.

These include changing its performance management system as soon as possible and working with unions to draw up a departmental workload policy which would set “parameters over what is acceptable and what isn't".

She added: "There are many strands to wellbeing that can be supported by the employer, be that employee assistance schemes, mental health first aid, the promotion of healthy lifestyles.

"All of these are important, but I would argue the biggest thing the employer can do is address workload.

"Paying for all the extra hours worked by GLD staff would be a start. Perhaps that would focus attention on the amount of work that gets done for free."

The FDA is calling for GLD staff to be compensated for all hours that they work, rather than just those that they are contractually obliged to, and wants the GLD to follow the example set in the private sector and in other departments by allowing all grades to receive overtime or TOIL equivalence.

While Cooke welcomed the GLD’s focus on wellbeing at its annual gathering, and vowed to work with the department "to really make the GLD the best employer in the service", she said members would be looking for "concrete signs of a problem being addressed” in the months ahead.

More details of the FDA's Working Hours Survey - which has gathered the views of members right across government - are set to be published ahead of the Annual Delegate Conference in May.

If you want to show your support for the FDA's campaign for compensation for all hours worked, you can find out more and join here: www.fda.org.uk/join_us.