Can I be forced to change my shift?

I have worked for my employer for over 15 years. My written contract says the hours worked can be between 8am and 8pm. I returned from maternity leave five years ago and reduced my hours to part time and I offered one late night a week, but confirmed I couldn’t offer more lates due to childcare. My employer verbally agreed my shift pattern so I did not put a flexible working request in. Now the company have told me they are reviewing my shift due to a company restructure. New shifts have been collectively agreed by our union and unfortunately they include too many lates and Saturdays which I am unable to do due to not being able to get childcare as I am a single parent. The company have said they will force the shift and because the union have agreed them there is nothing the union can do to help. I understand I cannot resign and claim constructive dismissal because the union have collectively agreed the shifts, so do I just resign and keep quiet or is there anything I can do to challenge it? I have been given a two-month transition period.

Changes in terms of employment which are negotiated by an independent trade union may be effective to amend individual contracts of employment where the collective agreement reflecting the amendment have been incorporated (either expressly or impliedly) into the employee’s contract of employment. Any changes to terms which are agreed through that process may be binding on employees. This may even apply to employees who are not members of the relevant trade union or representative body. Whether a term agreed through a collective process is binding on individual employees will also depend on whether it is “apt” for the given term to be binding. In considering this, factors such as the context in which the term arises and the particular term in question will be relevant. You will need to seek advice on the terms of your contract to establish whether this is the case.

As you have not previously submitted a flexible working application it would be advisable to submit an application setting out the details of your request, the reasons for your request and how your employer could accommodate this request. You should also submit a grievance during this process.

*Sarah Turner assisted in answering this question.

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